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Showing posts with label Sin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sin. Show all posts

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Madness of Lust


Introduction
The definition of madness:  the state of being mentally ill, especially severely.  Another definition is: extremely foolish behavior.  Or it could be defined as:  a state of frenzied or chaotic activity.  Some synonyms for madness are:  insanity, mental illness, derangement, stupidity, lunacy, irrationality, bedlam, mayhem, chaos, pandemonium, and turmoil.

Sin is madness.  God created a perfect world and He said it was good. Then, as the crown jewel of all creation, God create people.  He created them male and female and He said they were very good.  In the beginning, there was no sin in the world.  Everything was good and perfect and in harmony with God.  But then, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and taste the forbidden fruit and sin entered into the world.  Paradise was lost.  Darkness befell the earth.  Evil and disorder and death became rampant.  And all creation groaned.

The world we live in is not what God intended.  Every one of us has a spiritual illness, a form of madness, the madness of sin.  Over the last two months, I’ve shared about some of the basic forms of sin that plague humanity:  gluttony, pride, greed, sloth, wrath, and envy.  These basic sins are the root causes of all the evil we see in the world. They lead to disorder and darkness we know all too well in our world today.

I have one more basic sin to share with you today:  lust.  Lust is a psychological force producing intense longing for an object or circumstance.  Lust can take any form such as the lust for sexuality, love, money, or power.  There is a scene in the classic movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” where Willy Wonka invites everyone indulges in their candy coated fantasies as he sings about "pure imagination".  You can see expressions on each characters face that look a lot like lust.  Is it coincidence or intentional that the song is about using your imagination to intensify your longing for the good things in life?  That is much of what lust is: using your imagination to idolize the object for which you lust.

Matthew 5:27-30
27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Come On Jesus, Is Lust Really that Bad?
Do we literally have to cut out our eyes or cut off our hands if we lust?  Thank God, no!  Jesus is speaking in hyperbole.  Hyperbole is a technique of speech whereby the speaker over exaggerates to make a point.  However, Jesus is serious that lust is a very serious sin.  Our thoughts lead to actions.  When we lust, it changes our thought patterns, which science shows can actually change your brain chemistry.  And your brain chemistry can change your behaviors.  Our thoughts lead our actions.  When we look at someone differently, we treat them differently--even if it's only in our subconscious.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s changed our priorities about sex.  I am a child of that sexual revolution.  I did not live through the 1960s, but my parents did and I was born in 1974.  Over the last 45 years of my life, I have seen the world's ideas about sex change drastically.  Some of those changes have been positive, but many have not.  One consequence has been that our culture now places sex up on a high pedestal.  Sex has become a sort of idol.  The popular mindset is that sex is regarded as one of the chief aims of life.  Our movies, our music, our television shows, and commercials lead us to believe that the norm should be that everyone is having sex all the time and in all places.  Something must be seriously wrong with us if we are not having lots of incredible sex all the time.  And for anyone to deny themselves or anyone else sex would be the worst kind of atrocity.  This is the common popular view of sex in our culture and it is a lie.  The Truth in God's Word is that sex is good and important, but it is not everything (like the world tried to say).  

Given our cultures fixation on sex, it is no wonder that lust has become rampant in our society.  We think about sex all the time.  Men and women lust after each other.  55% of married men and 25% of married women say they watch porn at least once a month.  The porn industry’s annual revenue is more than the NFL, NBA, and MLB combined. It is also more than the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC.  Lust is a huge problem in our society and it is destroying us.

So if  lust is such a serious problem, what must we do?

Accept God’s Grace for Your Past
The very first step with any sin is to repent as soon as we recognize it is a problem within us.  If you struggle with lust, turn to good, ask for forgiveness, and ask Him to help you be rid of it.  When it comes to lust, people often feel great shame.  They might feel, “God could never forgive me for this…”   

But the Word of God tells us God can and will forgive any sin.  We know how serious God is about wanting to forgive our sins because Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God is personally invested in your struggle with sin and that includes all sins, even lust or sexual sin.  Through faith and repentance, we can be forgiven. You don’t have to live with shame, guilt, and fear because of your sexual sin. Turn to God and allow Him to cleanse you of your sin.

There are some things the people of this age need to know--things you need to know. First of all, lust is a terrible sin, but it is no more terrible than any other sin. It is the Enemy, Satan that evil villain, who sneaks up and whispers lies in our ears so that we get so mixed up about sex.  One lie that Satan has told many over the ages is that sex is bad and shameful.  This became the prevailing opinion in society during the Victorian period and it lingered into the first half of the 20th century.  People saw sex as dirty and unspeakable.  It was only to be used as an unfortunate means to make children.  It was a lie that even the church accepted and promulgated.  However, it was a lie.  It is not found in Scripture.  (This is why is is so imperative that the Church base it's teachings upon the Holy Bible and not human opinion!)  Scripture says God created sex and that it is good and beautiful and holy and sacred and powerful.  Really?  In the Bible?  Yes!  There is a whole book dedicated to sexuality--the Song of Solomon (AKA the Song of Songs).

And what I believe happened is there were many people who knew somehow in their heart that sex couldn't be so bad; they knew this because God created us and He created sex good and it's in our DNA.  And so the Devil slips in and whispers, "You know sex isn't bad.  The church is lying to you."  And finally enough people get fed up with the half truth of society and start believing the half truth of the Devil and they have a "revolution" that now says sex is good, but they go too far and we get what we have today which says something like, "Sex is more important than everything else."

So now people have to possible problems they may find in their hearts.  On the one hand, there are many people who struggle with lust who feel so ashamed, they can't tell anyone and they may even fear God can never forgive them.  They struggle with their lust in secret, afraid someone might find out and that God hates them.  Some find their situation so dark, they contemplate suicide--some even do commit suicide--because Satan is always whispering in their ear, "God could never love you; no one can."  Others, fed up with their feelings of guilt and shame and inability to break free from their lust,believe a different kind of lie.  Satan sneaks up to them (often through a world that idolizes sin and sexuality) and whispers, "You've been lied to.  There's nothing wrong with lust.  You just need to come out of the shadows and proudly own your sexuality.  Be loud and proud!"  And so many in our day and age come to the conclusion they must violently reject any teaching or teacher who says lust is bad.  They embrace their sin.  And to be sure, there is a great feeling of relief in this.  It is liberating as they come out of hiding for the first time and find that there is a world of people willing to embrace them.

God is something so much better!  God embraces us just as we are--sin and warts and all--but He also brings healing and wholeness.  We don't have to settle for the half truths and lies of the Devil that says revel in your sin.  God says, I will restore you to the wonder of my original sacred design.  It is a more difficult path to follow, but it is infinitely better and leads to eternal life.  Embracing our sin leads to death and destruction.  And Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, "“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."  Choose the narrow way.

Live by God’s Grace Today through the Power of the Holy Spirit
When we repent, God forgives us immediately.  However, the path to healing takes time.  I currently have a broken bone in my foot.  It only took a single moment to break the bone.  And I went to the doctor the same day.  However, the healing will take many weeks, maybe months.  I have to follow the doctors orders in order to get well.  The same is true of our spiritual brokenness.  It takes time to heal, but God does heal it as we follow His treatment plan.  Through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, meditation, fasting, silence and solitude, etc., God begins to change us.  As we commit daily to be nourished by God’s Word, as read, study, spend time with God in the Bible, the HOly Spirit begins to sanctify us.  As we serve others, we begin to turn away from our selfish lustful pursuits and get out of ourselves by serving others.  

But there is one more thing that is essential in dealing with the sin of lust.  You must seek accountability from the community of faith.  Secrecy breeds sin; transparency fosters healing.  This is especially true when it comes to lust.  Lust makes us want to hide our sin in the shadows, because the light eats it away.  So we have to bring it out into the light.  Now, I understand you don't want the whole church knowing your embarrassing sin, so I don't recommend you tell just anyone who might go blabbing your business all about town and on social media.  However, you should find a pastor or trusted Christian friend or mentor who can pray with you and talk with you on a regular basis and hold you accountable.  We often fail to make progress with lust (or any sin really) because we try to handle it all on our own.  But sin and temptation are too heavy for us to carry all by ourselves.  That's why we need the Church; there is more strength when we work together as the Body of Christ.

And for some, lust and pornography, sexual addictions are every bit as strong as a drug addiction.  And there are groups like celebrate recovery and Sex Anonymous (that operate just like Alcoholics Anonymous) that are effective in helping sex addicts find sobriety from their sexual addictions.

Invitation 
I invite you to taste the sweet life in God’s Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is neither sexual repression nor promiscuous indulgence.  It is so much more.  It is right down the middle of God's Truth.  It is Good.  It is Holy.  It is Sacred.  It is True.  It is living life through all eternity just the way God made us to be, in His wonderful presence, the Source of Life and True Love and Joy and Peace.



Monday, March 18, 2019

The Madness of Wrath


Introduction
Sin is madness.  It’s insanity.  Sin is a poison that we inflict upon ourselves.  It hurts everyone and everything.  Our sin hurts people we love—even if we don’t intend it.  Sin breaks all of creation.  It is the reason nature sometimes runs wild with tornadoes ripping through a community and killing people and destroying property.  Sin is the reason cancer ends people’s lives when they are still young.  (Not necessarily the person's sin, but the fact that sin permeates our world corrupts the nature of everything.)  Worst of all, sin wounds the heart of a loving God who only wants the best for us; it drives a wedge between us, separating us from the source of love, joy, peace, and hope.  Sin is madness.

And it’s not just the big sins like rape and murder.  All sin is despicably evil by the glorious standard of God.  In the past few blogs, I considered the deadly sins of gluttony, pride, greed, and sloth.  Perhaps they seem like minor infractions.  But they are terrible and evil and we should recognize them for the darkness they are, fall on our knees before God and repent lest we be consumed by the wrath of God.  For as we partake in the sins of gluttony, pride, greed, or sloth, we become partners with the armies of the Devil who oppose the Kingdom of God and seek to destroy the world and all that are in it.  It is that serious.

That is why Jesus came and preached, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)  We must recognize our sins—small as much as big—and repent.  Furthermore, we must give up every notion that we are better than anyone else because their sins are supposedly “worse” than ours.  That doesn’t mean we excuse the sins of others any more than we can excuse our own.  No.  Instead we repent of our own sin and we join in the saving work of God’s Kingdom, proclaiming to the world, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  We must work tirelessly, until all the world comes to Christ willingly, or until Christ comes to judge on the Last Day.

The characters from the classic movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” each represent a different sin.  Little Charlie Bucket and his grandpa take a tour of the chocolate factory and sneak a taste of Wonka’s fizzy lifting drinks even thought it was against the rules.  Furthermore, Charlie stole one of Wonka’s Amazing Gobstoppers thinking one of Willy Wonka’s business competitors would pay him a huge amount of money for it.  Wonka is livid and angrily informs Charlie and his grandpa they have broken the rules and forfeited the lifetime supply of chocolate they were expecting.  

The Madness of Wrath Title
Let us consider wrath or anger.  (Wrath and anger are the same thing.)  Willy Wonka was angry and his wrath poured out against Chalrie and his grandpa.  Wonka has been betrayed before and it always hurts to be betrayed.  Wonka is the leading candy manufacturer in the world and his competitors are always trying to steal his ideas and formulas.  They will do anything to get his secrets—even bribe his employees to betray Wonka.  Betrayal hurts and it sparks Willy Wonka’s wrath. 

Charlie’s grandpa gets mad too.  He’s angry because Wonka won’t give Charlie a lifetime supply of chocolate.  Even though Wonka’s actions were justified because Charlie broke the rules, Charlie’s grandpa can’t stand to see his grandson suffer.  He takes it as a personal offence and vows “I’ll get even with him if it’s the last thing I ever do!”  So we see Charlie’s grandpa is already, in his anger, plotting vengeance (and he’ll do whatever it takes to see it through).

Anger (also called wrath) is a tricky emotion.  It’s not a happy emotion.  We might wish anger didn’t exist.  And perhaps, if there were no sin in the world, everyone could be happy all the time and there would be no need for anger.  I believe when the Kingdom of God finally comes on earth in the Last Day there will be no more anger.  But that’s not the world we live in now; is it?  Anger is sometimes necessary in our broken world.  And there is a kind of anger that is not sinful.  We call this righteous anger. 

We see examples of the righteous anger of God in the Bible.  God is angry at the Israelites for breaking the Ten Commandments.  We even see Jesus get angry.  One time, the disciples wouldn’t let some little children come to Jesus.  They thought Jesus was too important to be bothered by a bunch of kids they thought were unimportant.  Mark 10:14 says, “When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.”  And of course the story most people think of is in Matthew 21 when Jesus flipped over the money changers tables and drove everyone out of the Temple with a whip.  And we know God is Holy and Jesus never sinned.  So these episodes of righteous anger must be justified.

Ephesians 4:26-27 says:
26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

Notice the New Living Translation doesn’t say, “Don’t get angry.”  It says, “don’t sin by letting anger control you.  The New American Standard Bible translates the verse this way:  “Be angry, and yet do not sin.”

So there is in Scripture the idea that you can be angry and not sin or you can be angry and sin.  What’s the difference?  Here's a list of the differences: 

Righteous Anger
Sinful Anger
·       Has holy desires because you are aiming for the glory & justice  & righteousness of God
·       Leaves room for God’s vengeance
·       Never leads you to say or do things you will regret or for which you will have apologize
·       Is long suffering and quick to forgive
·       Gets angry at evil, but cares about the offender
·    Has selfish motivations and points to your own glorification
·    Is vindictive; you want to get even at any cost
·    Makes you say and do things you will regret latter and the need to apologize
·    Is short fused and holds a grudge
·    Gets angry at people and makes you cut people out of your life forever

Anger is an important emotion.  It can motivate you to fight against injustice when you would otherwise say or do nothing.  I saw a surveillance tape once of a McDonald's dining room.  A group of teenagers were picking on and bullying another kid in the restaurant.  Non of the other patrons or employees said or did anything to stop the bullying.  Thankfully, one brave lady was angered by the injustice and should stood up to the defence.  She scolded the bullies and told them to leave.  After they left, she said down with the one kid and told him that she had been bullied when she was in high school too.  Her anger drove her to protect a the innocent.

Anger is part of our DNA because we are made in the image of God.  God gets angry when He sees the rich oppressing the poor, the arrogant mistreating the humble, the strong beating up on the weak.  God gets angry when He sees sin destroying the world and people’s lives.  And we should get angry about these things too.

However, we have to be very careful, because the Devil likes to corrupt righteous anger and use it to worm his way into our life and bring destruction.  When we start to take an offense personally or start to derive pleasure from our angry feeling or let our anger make us vindictive, we will say and do things we regret latter and the Devil will have a field day in your life.

Important Advice about Anger
Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry for anger gives a foothold to the devil.”  That means we need to deal with anger quickly.  Here are some tips about how to deal with anger:
  • Remember, we're fighting a spiritual battle.  Ephesians 6:12 – "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places."  So don't be angry at a person who has offended you or someone you love.  Imagine the the dark powers behind what you can see that are manipulating the people who do wrong.  Reserve the bulk of your anger for the Dark Spiritual Forces that are twisting people's actions.  That is the real Enemy.  Directing your anger at Evil can help be angry in the right way and not sin.
  • Repent of any sinful anger in your life.  Don’t wait.  Deal with it ASAP.  It gives the Devil a foothold in your life.  Have you ever seen a castle wall?  A good castle wall is high and strong.  If the surface is smooth, an enemy cannot get inside the fortress.  The Bible says the Lord is a mighty fortress.  That means He protects us from evil like a castle wall protects those inside.  The Enemy can't get over the Lord's wall to harm you, unless you harbor anger in your life.  Holding on to anger puts cracks in your wall and gives the Enemy a place to put his feet and hands to climb up over the wall and cause all kinds of problems in your spirit.  I don't want the Enemy inside my fortress; do you?  Then, let's repent of the sinful anger in our lives ASAP.
  • Deal also with your righteous anger every day and be done with it.  Don’t hold on to it.
      Righteous anger is like milk
    ; it has an expiration date.  Even holy, righteous, godly anger can turn sour in your soul if you wait too long to deal with it.  Then, just like good wholesome milk will sour if it goes beyond its expiration date, righteous anger can sour into sinful anger if we don't use it up in time.  What action is the Lord's righteous anger in your heart calling you to do?  You better pray about it and talk to a wise friend and then get to work.
Closing
Christians are not meant to be angry people.  God wants us primarily to be filled with love, joy, peace, and hope.  There are times when sin and evil and injustice should make us angry.  However, when it does, we need to deal with it in the right way so that we can resume the love, joy, peace, and hope that are more fitting attitudes for God's children.  How is God calling you to deal with anger today?




Monday, March 11, 2019

The Madness of Sloth


Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Introduction
In this series, we’re using the characters from the classic movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” to basic sins that plague humanity.  We’ve already explored what the Bible says about gluttony, pride, and greed.  Today, we consider sloth.  The image for sloth is that of a couch potato who does nothing but sit on the coach and watch TV all day long.  Willy Wonka has a character that’s perfect for that.  His name, in fact, is Mike Teavee and all he ever wants to do is watch TV.

The Madness of Sloth
Mike Teavee almost seems a bit too energetic to nrepresent sloth to me, though.  Perhaps the animal we actually call a sloth is a better caricature for this sin.

What is sloth?  Well, I could tell you, but I just don’t have the energy this morning…  It’s kid of a challenge to define the sin of sloth.  Most people think of laziness.  Romans 12:11, “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.  Laziness is part of it, but sloth is more than just being lazy.  I can think of four ways we fall into sin through sloth.

The first kind of sloth is negligence.
We all need to rest.  However, sometimes there’s the temptation to indulge in rest at the expense of other important matters.  We are often tempted to skip worship and spend a little more time sleeping.  However, regular, weekly worship is important. We all need to tend our soul and God deserves our worship and praise.  We have to make the effort.

Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 24:30-34 says:  “I walked passed a lazy person’s farm, and the vineyard of someone who has no sense.  Briars had taken over everything and the ground was full of weeds. The stone wall was broken down.  So I reflected on this sad sight and learned an important lesson:  A little more sleep, a little extra snoozing, a little more time in the recliner with your hands folded across your chest, and poverty will sneak up on you like a bandit, and hardship will invade your life.

This life and everything in it are gifts from God.  Our times of rest and even our work are gifts and a blessing.  Don’t take God’s gifts for granted.  There is a time and a purpose for everything.  So rest when it is time to rest and work when it is time to work.  Don’t be careless about how you spend your time.  

The second way to fall into sloth is procrastination.
Do you procrastinate?  Do you put things off?  Are you afraid to get started?  This is actually a form of sloth.  It is madness.  Understand, sin is not just something that offends God.  (I think that is so often the way most people view sin…)  Sin is insanity because it hurts you.  It’s a self-inflicted wound.  People who procrastinate hurt themselves.  It can damage your reputation.  It can hurt your career.  It can harm your family.  It keeps you from being effective and all that you can be.

Sometimes, the hardest part of any task is just getting started.  The best advice I can give to the sloth who procrastinates is the slogan for Nike, “Just do it.”  If you’re waiting for all the details to be worked out and everything to be in place before you start, you’ll probably never going to get going.  If you’re waiting to feel like doing it, you’re probably won’t ever feel like it and so you won’t ever get going.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed, like the job is just too big, that’s always the way a big job feels at the beginning.  However, once you get started, you are more likely to preserver through it.  And it may not be perfect to start with, but you can always adjust as you go.  I feel like most of the time it’s better to have an imperfect start and fix things as you go than to never get started in the first place.  So just jump in there and get to it.

A third kind of sloth is when you put forth half-hearted effort.
Some people don’t procrastinate, but the work they do is never their best effort.  They work, but they only do the minimum.  Now, I understand that no one is perfect.  I also understand that you can’t give everything you have to do in life equal effort.  That’s why it’s very important to know what’s most important in your life.  You’ve got to have your priorities in proper order.  What is a priority?  A priority is something to which you devote most of your time, energy, and money.  If you’re not spending most of your time, energy, and money on something, it’s not really a priority.  Bill Caylor’s Sunday school class is the J.O.Y. class.  JOY is an acronym to remind them of their priorities:  Jesus first, Others second, and You third.  For me, serving God is my first priority.  Second is loving my wife. Third is raising my kids.  Therefore, I try to devote my time, energy, and money accordingly. 

Once you know your priorities, you’ve got to devote yourself to them with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  In Revelation 3:16, Jesus lamented that the Church in Laodicea was full of half-hearted sloths.  He said, “Since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”  We should devote ourselves to our top priorities as if we were working directly for Christ.  Don’t be a sloth.  Give it your all to what’s really important in your life.

A fourth way we commit the sin of sloth is when we become easily discouraged by any possible difficulty.
Life is full of difficult challenges. Sometimes the difficulties can cause to freeze up or give up.  However, that’s not what Jesus wants for us.  Some of the greatest blessings come when we have the faith to keep going when it seems we just can’t.  For then we realize the wonder of seeing the Holy Spirit at work through us.  How can you ever experience the supernatural power of God if you never attempt something that is beyond your ability?

Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”  And the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who give me the strength I need from day to day.”  If God has given you a task, He will supply the help, the resources, the ability, whatever is needed to see it through.  Your job is to get up off the couch and get to work.

Life is Sweet When We Give It All to Jesus
Jesus calls us all to go out from the church to fulfill the great mission of His church.  He calls us to go out and serve in His name.  Romans 12:11 says, “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 

I invite you to come spend a moment in prayer.  Have you been negligent in your work—neglecting to do what’s really important?  Do you procrastinate?  Have you been putting off something important you need to do?  Are you guilty of half-hearted living?  Have you been afraid to do something you know God wants you to do?  Now is the time to repent and live in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

When You Need Help, God is With You

Introduction
            Over the next few weeks, I will share a series of blogs based on lessons from the book of Daniel, which tells the story of Daniel and his Judean companions who were living in exile in Babylon.  (This will also be the theme of my church's vacation Bible school later this month.  If you have kids or grandkids and live near Dalton, GA, we'd love to have you bring them to our VBS.  They will have a great time and learn a lot.  Plus, we'll feed them dinner and it's all free!)
            Daniel was a bright young Judean noble who lived around 600 B.C.  Judea was the southern kingdom of Israel.  The northern kingdom fell about a century before Daniel lived because it was very wicked.  The southern kingdom was guilty of their own share of sin too.  For centuries, God had warned them through prophets that they were not living the way God told them to live in the Old Testament law.  They, lied, cheated, were sexually immoral, and they worshipped idols.  God warned them again and again to stop these things and follow God's laws for holy living, but they did not. 
            Finally, time to repent ran out and they had to face the consequences of their continued and grievous sin and rebellion against God.  The army of the great Babylonian empire, which was the most powerful in all the world at the time, came sweeping in to conquer Judea.  The Babylonians captured and destroyed the Judeans' capital, Jerusalem, and burned the Jewish temple to the ground.  All the people who were not killed or executed in the battle were taken away into exile in Babylon.  They were forced to change their names, speak a different language, and follow foreign customs.  The best and brightest among the Judeans, like a young man named Daniel, were forced to serve the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.  However, God did not forget His people.  It grieved Him to see the Jews suffering--even though it was their own sin that caused it--and God continued to be with His people and help them through their troubles.
            If you ever feel like your community doesn't reflect your values, your hopes and dreams, the story of Daniel is perfect for you.  If you are a conservative who mourns how society's values are slipping away until they no longer reflect your values, Daniel is for you.  If you are a progressive who feels society has not yet grown and changed and matured into the values you hold dear, the story of Daniel is for you.  Daniel is the story of a people forced to live as aliens among a foreign people, who had to learn to navigate the tricky world of getting along with a people who were not like them without compromising their own core beliefs.  I think Daniel is such a relevant story for 21st century America.
            It is important to say at this point (and for us always to remember) the suffering Daniel and his countrymen experience was not because of God; it was because of sin.  God did not cause them to suffer; they suffered because they behaved badly.  The same is true when we suffer.  God doesn't cause our pain; we suffer because of sin.   Sometimes we suffer because of our own sin.  Maybe we made a mistake or deliberately did something we knew we shouldn't and as a result, we experience the bad results of our bad choices.  We all can probably think of times in our life when this was the case.  As an example: maybe we were driving too fast, not paying careful attention, and we had an accident.  Then our car was totaled and we were injured.  Our actions led directly to our suffering.
            However, our personal suffering is not always caused by our own bad behavior.  We might not have done anything wrong at all, yet we still suffer.  To take the example I just mentioned:  maybe we were driving safely; maybe we were paying close attention, but someone else wasn't and they ran into us.  It was not our sin, but theirs that totaled our car and injured us.  Sometimes the suffering we face in this life is because of other peoples' sin, but it is always because of sin and not God.  The sins of humanity have led to a broken world.  Even nature is not as it should be.  Yes it is beautiful and good in many ways, but it is also corrupted and full of suffering and death.  The darkness we see is the result of the accumulated sin of all humanity--mine, yours, everyones.  However, it is not because of God.
            This is an important concept to know, because it means we can turn to God for help.  God does not want us to suffer.  God didn't cause the suffering.  He warns us and pleads with us to behave right so we won't suffer.  And He watches sadly when we ignore Him and thus feel the painful consequences of our misbehavior.  And He is always willing to help when we repent and turn to Him for help.  Psalm 46:1 says, "God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble."
            Let me share a wonderful and intriguing story of a time God helped Daniel and his friends while they were in captivity in Babylon. 

Daniel 2:1-19 1One night during the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had such disturbing dreams that he couldn’t sleep. He called in his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers, and he demanded that they tell him what he had dreamed. As they stood before the king, he said, “I have had a dream that deeply troubles me, and I must know what it means.”

Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic,[c] “Long live the king! Tell us the dream, and we will tell you what it means.”

But the king said to the astrologers, “I am serious about this. If you don’t tell me what my dream was and what it means, you will be torn limb from limb, and your houses will be turned into heaps of rubble! But if you tell me what I dreamed and what the dream means, I will give you many wonderful gifts and honors. Just tell me the dream and what it means!”

They said again, “Please, Your Majesty. Tell us the dream, and we will tell you what it means.”

The king replied, “I know what you are doing! You’re stalling for time because you know I am serious when I say, ‘If you don’t tell me the dream, you are doomed.’ So you have conspired to tell me lies, hoping I will change my mind. But tell me the dream, and then I’ll know that you can tell me what it means.” 

10 The astrologers replied to the king, “No one on earth can tell the king his dream! And no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked such a thing of any magician, enchanter, or astrologer! 11 The king’s demand is impossible. No one except the gods can tell you your dream, and they do not live here among people.”

12 The king was furious when he heard this, and he ordered that all the wise men of Babylon be executed. 13 And because of the king’s decree, men were sent to find and kill Daniel and his friends.

14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, came to kill them, Daniel handled the situation with wisdom and discretion. 15 He asked Arioch, “Why has the king issued such a harsh decree?” So Arioch told him all that had happened. 16 Daniel went at once to see the king and requested more time to tell the king what the dream meant.

17 Then Daniel went home and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah what had happened. 18 He urged them to ask the God of heaven to show them his mercy by telling them the secret, so they would not be executed along with the other wise men of Babylon. 19 That night the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven.

Everyone Needs Help
            Everyone needs help from time to time.  There's no shame in asking for help.  Just make sure you ask the right person for help--someone who can actually help you.  Did you note that everyone in the story from Daniel needs help.  Even the mighty King, Nebuchadnezzar, needed help because he had a terrible nightmare.  Everyone has nightmares and you can usually just wake up, realize it was just a dream, and go back to sleep in peace.  But King Neb had a dream he felt was different.  It was like the very voice of God was speaking to him and he had to know why.  He could not sleep in peace until he did.  Unfortunately, King Neb turned to the wrong people for help.  We can't blame him.  He was not a follower of the One, True God--the God of the Judeans he conquered.  Neb and the Babylonians believed there were many gods.  Their spiritual beliefs were all mixed up.  So when Nebuchadnezzar needed help, he turned to his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers for help.  And they couldn't really help, which meant...  
           Nebuchadnezzar's royal advisors were in big trouble too!  The desperately needed help because their lives were on the line!  The king asked the impossible.  If he'd just asked them to interpret the dream, they could have come up with some creative and plausible explanation. (That's what astrologists do.  They make a vague statement about your life based on irrelevant information and when you read it you think, "Oh, that sounds just like me.  It's probably true!)  Maybe that's why wise old king Neb decided not to tell them his dream.  He figured, if they really did have some special insight, they'd be able to tell him what he dreamed and what it meant.  Does your boss or teacher or parents or kids (or anyone) ever make absolutely unreasonable demands of you?  Something that's just seems impossible?  You have to respond or else face the consequences. You need help--supernatural help.  King Neb's advisors needed supernatural help.  Exasperated, they told the king, "No one but the gods can do what you're asking and the gods don't live here among the people.”
            Actually, yes He does.  That is the beauty and wonder of the Good News of God's story in the Bible.  God knew we desperately needed His help.  And so He came and lived among us as a human being in the man, Jesus.  He was born of a virgin named Mary.  He lived as one of us.  He experienced all that we experience.  He suffered torture at the hands of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  Jesus was crucified on a cross and died and was buried.  On the third day after his death, he rose from the dead.  He ascended to heaven and now his Holy Spirit lives inside any person who puts their whole trust in Jesus Christ.  So yes, God does live among the people.  He hasn't forgotten us and He can and will help us if we ask Him.
            That was good news for Daniel, because he was one Nebuchadnezzar's royal advisors.  He was to be killed with all the rest if he couldn't tell the king what he dreamed and what it meant.  So Daniel also needed help.  Fortunately, Daniel knew the One True and Living God, the God of the Holy Bible, the God who created the whole universe, who controls world events, who sets up kingdoms and also tears them down, who gives wisdom to those who ask, and reveals hidden secrets like dreams and their meanings.  So Daniel asked God for help.
            Kings and kingdoms come in all forms. At the moment, they seem all powerful and everlasting, but they come and go. Only God and His Kingdom last forever. Our problems can also seem immense and overwhelming and unstoppable, but they come and they go.  God is bigger than any problem you are facing or ever will face.  And God was bigger than even the life threatening problem Daniel and his friends faced at the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar.  When you have a problem, pray and ask God for help.  He can and will help you.

So What Was the Dream?
            The full story of how God revealed Nebuchadnezzar's dream and it's meaning through Daniel is found in Daniel 2:29-46.  I'll summarize it.  King Neb dreamed about a giant statue made of many different types of material.  The statue and each section represented the empires that would rule the world in the future.  The statue had a golden head that represented Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian empire.  It seemed inconceivable that his empire would ever end, but it would end and be replaced by another, the Persian Empire represented by the statue's silver breast and arms.  Then would come the  Greek Empire, represented by the statue's brass belly and thighs.  Next would be the Roman Empire, represented by the statue's iron legs.  These great kingdoms would be succeeded by divided kingdoms, represented by the feet of the statue made from a weak mixture of clay and iron. 
            All of these kingdom were thought to be so great and powerful.  The people who lived in them never imagined they would not last forever, yet today, we can barely remember their names or where they were or who ruled them.  They came and went and were mostly forgotten, accept in dusty history books that few people read. 
            There was one more part of the dream and it's the important part that we need to know and remember most.  In the dream, there was a Rock (and not Dwayne Johnson).  This Rock represented Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.  Daniel 2:34-35 says:  "34 As you watched, a rock was cut from a mountain, but not by human hands. It struck the feet of iron and clay, smashing them to bits. 35 The whole statue was crushed into small pieces of iron, clay, bronze, silver, and gold. Then the wind blew them away without a trace, like chaff on a threshing floor. But the rock that knocked the statue down became a great mountain that covered the whole earth."
            The Rock was not made by human hands.  The Rock is Jesus and his Church (The Kingdom of God).  Remember, Jesus was not made by human hands.  He was born of the Virgin Mary and conceived through the Holy Spirit of God.  He is the Son of God.  You see: not made by human hands.  And Jesus alluded to this himself when he told the parable of the wise man who built his house upon the rock (Luke 6:48).  If you build your life upon Jesus (The Rock), when the storms come, you will stand firm.  But if you build your house upon sand--the things in this world that seem so big and important but which really aren't in the eternal scheme of things--then you will be washed away when the storms of life rage.
            And have you heard what Jesus said to his disciple Simon (Matthew 16:18)?  Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was and Simon answered Jesus was the Son of the living God.  Jesus replied, “Simon, from now on I will call your “Peter" (which means rock) and on this kind of faith I will build my Church and not even the gates of Hell will be able to stand against it!”  The Church, the Kingdom of God, is built on the rock of faith in Jesus.  And it has been growing ever since, becoming a mountain; today more people adhere to Christianity than any other world religion.  And the concepts of love and forgiveness and grace have already become infused into so much of what people believe today (even those who do not claim to be Christians).
            The Bible also says Jesus is the cornerstone of a new Temple, a new and different kind of Kingdom (Matthew 21:42).  The religious leaders and political leaders of his day rejected Jesus, but he became a stumbling block that tripped them up and brought their kingdoms down and crushed them to oblivion—not by the might of any kingdom’s army, but by the love and grace and forgiveness of Almighty God.
            And in King Nebuchadnezzar's dream, the Rock smashes into the feet of the statue and it all comes crumbling down and is crushed to dust that the wind blows away.  Can you here the band Kansas singing the old song, "Dust in the wind!  All we are is dust in the wind!"  And the interpretation of the rock in Nebuchadnezzar's dream is this:  All the great empires of this world eventually fall and are blown away like dust in the wind, but God's Kingdom, founded on faith in Jesus Christ (The Rock) and not made by human hands, is eternal.

So What Does It Mean for Me?
            God wants to help you with your problems, but he wants to do more than give you a temporary fix.  The various problems of this life--both big and small--will come and go.  Jesus came to help us fix the core problem that's at the root of it all--sin.  Sin is doing things our way instead of God's way.  It is rebelling against the One who made us and gave us life and purpose.  Sin is the ultimate idolatry--always looking to things or people or kingdoms or even ourselves to provide what only God can provide.  Sin always disappoints and leads to trouble.
            Remember, the suffering we face in this life is not because of God; it is caused by sin--whether it is our own personal sin or the sins of others.  Jesus came to conquer sin and offer grace and forgiveness.  Jesus came to enable us to turn away from sin and come back to God--the source of abundant, hope-filled, satisfying, joyful, eternal life.
            Will you truly turn to the Lord and ask for help?  Because, when we need help, God is with us.  Ask Him for help with all your problems.  More importantly, ask Him to help you with the core problem--your sin.  How do you do it?  It's simple.  Do as Daniel and his friends did.  Ask the God of Heaven to show you mercy.  Close your eyes and talk to God in a prayer.  Say:

"God of Heaven, thank you for sending Jesus to pay the price for my sin.  Please forgive my sin and save me.  Help me to follow Jesus as my Lord from now on.  Help me to obey You and so avoid as much as possible the troubles caused by the sin in this world until the day I come Home to be with you in Heaven where there is no more sin or suffering or death.  Amen."

            If this is your earnest desire and prayer, God will save you through Jesus Christ.  He will forgive your sin.  You will begin to experience a release from much of the suffering caused by sin in this life.  And you will have eternal life with God in the next life where there will be no more sin and the suffering sin brings.  You are a Christian--one who follows Christ as Lord and Savior.  You may still face troubles in this world (because this world is not your true home), but do not fear because Jesus has already over come this world.  The problems and kingdoms of this world will soon fade away like dust in the wind.  However, the Rock of Jesus and his Kingdom will stand forever.  Rejoice that you are now part of His eternal Kingdom!