Shine the Light: "Rescue from the Forgotten" – Daniel 5

When Paul McCartney was sixteen years old, his father turned sixty-four. That birthday inspired one of the first Paul_McCartneysongs the young would be “Beatle” ever wrote. The song was an imaginary conversation between a young man to his young love interest about “growing old together”. Some of us smile at the young man’s notion that “sixty-four” was so very old, especially in light of the fact that McCartney is seventy-two this year (born in 1942).

The song was on the Beatles playlist in the early days of their live concert circuit as an emergency “back-up” song to perform if their amplifiers blew a tube or power was disrupted. McCartney, with the wit and wisdom of his sixteen years of life wrote these words:

I could be handy mending a fuse, When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside, Sunday mornings go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds, Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I’m sixty-four?

That little window into English cottage living in the sixties is telling. McCartney clearly didn’t know the sixty-four would one day be a great age for “sky diving” and “para sailing in the Caribbean”. I love it when the wisdom of youth is challenged by the innovation and energy of adulthood.

I don’t know how I will feel at sixty-four, but I am not thinking Dottie will be sitting and knitting by the fireside, hoping I will take her out for a ride, unless we have flying cars by then. What I DO know, is that life isn’t over at sixty-four, or (for that matter) and eighty-four. We don’t come with “toe tags” and “expiration dates”. We live until God says we are done living. As for me, I want to champion living until I don’t. I don’t want to EXIST, I want to LIVE!

One of my heroes in the Bible is the prophetic writer and former Prime Minister named Daniel. He lived, worked and ministered well into his eighties. In our lesson from Daniel 5, we read of a time when he was quiet old, taken out of sequence because his memoirs are written thematically. He was in his eighties – and that was as old as dirt a world with an average life expectancy that didn’t break the mid-fifties. He was ANCIENT and though respected, not considered part of the “life blood” of his day on the political talk shows. He was the guy you interviewed in retrospectives, or when the guest of the day suddenly cancelled due to an impending crisis. Daniel was OLD NEWS, but God had a plan to dust him off and blow the pungent smell of moth balls – and put him back in the center of the story yet again.

Key Principle: We are never “off the hook” of ministry until we are with the Lord. To offer a positive message, we must stay engaged in the world that needs truth while longing for the life to come!

We all laugh at aging, because we all face it. For the young, just appropriately roll your eyes for a moment as we who have greying hair poke a bit of fun at ourselves…You have read these, I am sure…You Know You’re Getting Old When…

• Your joints are more accurate than the National Weather Service.
• Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.
• Your back goes out more than you do.
• The twinkle in your eye is only the reflection of the sun on your bifocals.
• You wake up with that morning-after feeling and you didn’t do anything the night before.
• You don’t care where your wife goes, just so you don’t have to go along.
• Many of your co-workers were born the same year that you got your last promotion.
• People call at 9 PM and ask, “Did I wake you?”
• The pharmacist has become your new best friend.
• There’s nothing left to learn the hard way.
• You come to the conclusion that your worst enemy is gravity.
• Your idea of a night out is sitting on the patio.
• You wake up, looking like your driver’s license picture.
• Happy hour is a nap.
• You begin every other sentence with, “Nowadays…”
• You constantly talk about the price of gasoline.
• You don’t remember when your wild oats turned to shredded wheat.
• You sing along with the elevator music.
• You are proud of your lawn mower.
• You wonder how you could be over the hill when you don’t remember being on top of it.
• The little gray-haired lady you help across the street is your wife.
• Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them either.
• Your ears are hairier than your head.
• It takes longer to rest than it did to get tired.
• Your childhood toys are now in a museum.
• You confuse having a clear conscience with having a bad memory.
• You know all the answers, but nobody asks you the questions.
• You enjoy hearing about other people’s operations.
• Your new easy chair has more options than your car.
• Your little black book only contains names ending in M.D.
• You get into a heated argument about pension plans.

With our smiles and laughter, here is a SERIOUS QUESTION: Do you ever feel too old to be relevant?

Look for a few minutes at the story of a man who got older, but didn’t become so stiff in nature that God could not and would not entrust new ministry to him in the lives of other people. His story showed that a man of integrity can live according to the beliefs he obtained by God’s touch in his youth. How did he stay pliable and useful to God? I believe if you examine the story recorded in this chapter, you will see at least four practical ways he “stayed handy” for the work of God to his generation.

Before we explore the four ways Daniel stayed “in the game” of life, let’s make sure we recognize some truths about the passage the lesson is taken from. First, the story is out of sequence in the book, and Daniel was much younger in the last lesson (and will be younger again later in the book). This is a selection from his life that God placed into the narrative to say something important. The WORLD may say the young are at the center of everything, but God does not. He uses the young, with their vitality and hope, their zeal and their energy. Yet, He uses also the aging, with life experience and tempering in the world. God wants to use BOTH, and use them in harmony with one another!

Consider for a few moments the fact that Daniel reckoned ENGAGEMENT would keep him useful to God… There were FIVE REASONS Daniel stayed engaged…and resisted the temptation to retreat and disconnect:

1. He stayed engaged in lives, because his world placed great weight on a false foundation!

He recognized he lived in a restless age with a pagan core (5:1-4). Drop into the scene and see if you can pick out what he observed:

Daniel 5:1 “Belshazzar the king held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. 2 When Belshazzar tasted the wine, he gave orders to bring the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 3 Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God which was in Jerusalem; and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4 They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.

Let me set the scene a bit. The year was 538 BCE. King Nabonidas, co-ruler of the Babylon empire, was in a large plain outside the city with his army defending it against the mighty army of the Medes and Persians under Cyrus – a renegade ruler of the nearby emerging empire of the Medes and Persians. Babylon was considered impregnable, and the older Babylonian army had a world reputation for victory. The Persians were upstarts, a newly banded army that was threatening a super power of its day.

According to Herodotus the historian’s still disputed measures, the city had a wall surrounding it was nearly 300 feet high and eighty feet wide, surrounded by deep moats. Any attempt to breach that wall must have seemed pointless – and that is what made the exercise of defense one of such confidence that inside the city a party could be held in a time of conflict. The archaeological data suggests the moat extended 35 feet into the ground. If one were to ride around the city outside the wall, he would travel 60 miles – it was a HUGE city by ancient standards (Consider the trip Nehemiah made around Jerusalem a few years later that took a few hours through rubble). The wall of Babylon reportedly had some two hundred fifty guard towers and rooms for soldiers to sleep. It had upwards of one hundred gates, all armored with brass. If an enemy soldier managed to climb over the wall, he would have to cross a quarter mile of bare land before he could reach the city. In addition, there was enough food warehoused for a twenty-year siege and farmland within the wall to raise more if needed. The Euphrates River flowed under the wall to provide water for the crops, and had a cage fence to guard access by the river.

While Nabonidas was defending the city against its enemies, his regent son, Belshazzar was inside the palace feasting with all the kingdom’s nobles. Neither of them knew it was the last day of the mighty Babylonian empire… Nabonidus (556-539) was a skilled general and field tactician; but a poor politician. He rebuilt temples of older gods, and tried to revive older moral tenets, but largely failed because he offended contemporary priests and lost popular support of the young, who were looking for something new and “hip”. His son and regent was Belshazzar, the holder of the crown for his father during his many military exploits (ruled 549 until 539 takeover by Persian Cyrus II) and administrator of the empire while his father stayed at Teima in western Arabia in the latter years.

Don’t miss the background – OLD SCHOOL KING and youthful and boisterous generation… and Daniel lived in the city, probably in a school teaching, or studying old scrolls and keeping watch on the city with other shuffleboard playing scholars… Yet, he didn’t lose touch with the observations of the false foundation. There are five ways he could see it:

First, Daniel recognized the generation had “false beliefs” they held dear. The very name of the prince betrayed his paganism: 5:1a “Belshazzar”: “Bel protect the king!” The prince followed a religion and based his life on a god of his own making – not a god that required anything of him! One of the valuable lessons those who have been on the planet for longer will be able to readily observe is this: People live life as though they get to determine what truth is; and what eternity and the god that judges them is like! That presumes that there is NO Creator. If there is ONE GOD, then your beliefs about Him must square with the truth of Who He is – or your service to Him will be in error. If He cares about such things, your life and future will be in peril. People who make up their own rules do so because they do not accept the notion that TRUTH exists outside of them – and they must find and follow it – not invent it.

Second, Daniel recognized that people were living in “false security”. 5:1b: “held a great feast”: Archaeologists have unearthed a banquet room that would seat ten thousand people – an astounding sized party in a time when capitol cities of some kingdoms could not hold that number! Daniel recognized the threats of the times were significant, even if the partiers carried on like stocks were secure, and their dollar was unassailable. The prince’s father was fighting a losing battle without, but Belshazzar seemed utterly disconnected from peril – you know the type. People seem to disconnect from the problems of life around them and live as though the issues will not affect them – unfortunately they will!

Third, Daniel recognized that people mistook excess for happiness, but it was a sham. 5:1b-2 “drinking wine in the presence of the thousand”. Belshazzar the prince exemplified the playboy philosophy so prevalent in a paganized society. The end and goal of life seems to be to provide constant satisfaction and ongoing pleasure for the body. The terms used in the text are unmistakable – Belshazzar was at least impaired and at most drunk. He was using the resources of the kingdom to satiate his desires, not to maintain order and prepare for war. Even when the threat is clearly at the door, many people tend to try to find an escape from impending crises and hope they will be averted – unfortunately they seldom are!

Fourth, Daniel could see through the false value system boasted superiority over God and His worship. 5:2b-3 “bring the gold and silver vessels taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem”. The hedonistic philosophy is: “If you want it, get it. If it feels good, do it.” You don’t have to be fabulously wealthy to have this attitude, either. Many in our society live this way on nothing but credit. This philosophy has no place for a God Who places demands and expects moral purity from His followers. Pagans exhibit the reality that nothing is sacred to them. These vessels were carefully inventoried (see Ezra and the numbers of them) and were kept by his ancestors in respect to the gods they conquered. He sat on the throne, but had none of the respectful values of those before him. He was going to give the vessels for common use among the dignitaries (“noble”) but also to the concubines (ignoble uses). Sensual living tends to stupefy! People often scorn the values of the past and the respect system believing we don’t need the old conventions – unfortunately they will discover they are wrong!

The king and his men forgot what (or better WHO) provided the great wealth of their land! How like them we can be!

Some years ago a young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. “That depends,” replied the foreman. “Let’s see you fell this tree.” The young man stepped forward and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, “Start Monday!” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by, and Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, “You can pick up your paycheck on the way out today.” Startled, he replied, “I thought you paid on Friday.” “Normally we do,” answered the foreman, “but we’re letting you go today because you’ve fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you’ve dropped from first place on Monday to last on Wednesday.” “But I’m a hard worker,” the young man objected. “I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!” The foreman, sensing the boy’s integrity thought for a minute and then asked, “Have you been sharpening your ax?” The young man replied, “I’ve been working too hard to take the time.” Remember how we got where we are! (author unknown).

In our day the message could not be clearer:

• When you dismiss the Creator, you begin to erode the inalienable rights our fathers fought to preserve. If there is no God above them, there will be no reason to expect men of means will care deeply for those with nothing.

• When you crush the family, you forget the first place people were instructed to find the meanings of words like “responsibility, loyalty and fidelity.” The home will be reflected in the public square quickly.

• When you demean human life by killing the inconvenient, you diminish the whole basic value of society. When the value of life is dismissed, and the value of liberty is curtailed – only the value of the pursuit of happiness is left.

Fifth, Daniel recognized the people became belligerent against truth. 5:4 “they praised the gods of gold and silver”. The prince was totally insensitive to the demands of God and the feelings of God’s people. He became sensual. materialistic, and blasphemous. Belshazzar didn’t hesitate to openly blaspheme the God Who held Belshazzar’s life and future in His hands. The people decided the work of their hands was the measure of success – and that ended them. They blocked the thoughts of eternity, even though the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:11 (New International Version) “11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” They set aside eternity and measured life by the NOW. People measure life by what they have attained and gained and not what they have become!

People who are taught to emphasize rights and live for physical pleasures make poor society builders…

Daniel stayed in touch with society. He didn’t buy into it, but he didn’t sit and bark at it either. He was useful to God because he wasn’t out of touch with the world around him, but kept himself actively observing the problems, and evaluating the issues. Maybe many days no one listened to what he had to say – but when they did – he HAD something to say. It wasn’t simply about what he learned years before, but about what was happening THEN. Daniel was ENGAGED in the world around him because he wanted to be ready for God to use his life – and HE KNEW THE WORLD AROUND HIM WAS LIVING BASED ON THE WRONG PREMISE.

2. Daniel stayed engaged because God hasn’t finished His work yet! (5:5-6)

Daniel 5:5 Suddenly the fingers of a man’s hand emerged and began writing opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, and the king saw the back of the hand that did the writing. 6 Then the king’s face grew pale and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints went slack and his knees began knocking together.

Don’t forget that God will move in according to His own timing, and we must be there to assist the people faced with God’s revelation. 5:5a “Suddenly”. God offered no more warning than the revelation of the Word of God itself. Remember Luke 16 and the rich man – send them one from the dead that they may avoid the troubles was answered with – “They have the Law and the Prophets!” Don’t think that troubles will come with skywriting – we have 1189 chapters of truth that are already ignored by most people… The problem isn’t that God hasn’t spoken, warned, explained and exposed the plan…

It is also worth noting that people who know God reverence Him and invite Him into their lives, people who don’t will FEAR Him when they meet Him! 5:5b-6 “The fingers of a man’s hand”. The term “handwriting on the wall” has become synonymous with judgment. When it came, Belshazzar knew it was a power beyond his, but there was little he could do to stop it or change the words written. He was so frightened his face turned pale and his knees knocked together. If you challenge God to a duel, you’d better have a pistol that can fire a billion miles a millisecond – or you will find yourself completely mismatched.

Daniel stayed engaged because he knew God wasn’t done writing His story. The world wasn’t over – and neither was HE. As long as we have breath, we have a ministry.

3. Daniel stayed engaged because people around him were blind without a representative of God’s people – and he didn’t leave his post expecting someone else to pick it up until he was gone. (5:7-12)

Daniel 5:7 The king called aloud to bring in the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners. The king spoke and said to the wise men of Babylon, “Any man who can read this inscription and explain its interpretation to me shall be clothed with purple and have a necklace of gold around his neck, and have authority as third ruler in the kingdom.” 8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the inscription or make known its interpretation to the king. 9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, his face grew even paler, and his nobles were perplexed. 10 The queen entered the banquet hall because of the words of the king and his nobles; the queen spoke and said, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts alarm you or your face be pale. 11 “There is a man in your kingdom in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father, illumination, insight and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him. And King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, your father the king, appointed him chief of the magicians, conjurers, Chaldeans and diviners. 12 “This was because an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and insight, interpretation of dreams, explanation of enigmas and solving of difficult problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Let Daniel now be summoned and he will declare the interpretation.”

I cannot help but feel that people without a walk with God and a knowledge of His Word are like blind leading the blind. Look at the phrase: “the king called”. People will look for answers among people who have no more clue than themselves! The men couldn’t explain the truth, because they couldn’t see the truth! Without an ability to pull off a good life, we pay men and women literally hundreds of thousands to educate the upcoming generation. What would happen if we actually demanded a “track record” of example from them BEFORE they became teachers of our young? What if a professor had to actually show him or herself to be a good person in order to be qualified to help shape lives of our youth? Daniel didn’t GROUSE, he stayed a part of the conversation of his community. People TRUSTED him, and that became his platform to speak. Youth haven’t had time to build that platform, and Daniel didn’t trade it away – but kept it for use until his last breath.

Daniel recognized that he was God’s representative: “There is a man…” Look at the description:

• Testimony: In whom is the spirit – the recognition was about THEN, not just about the past. Can people STILL see God active in your life?

• Consistency: In the days of your father… Look at the reality that the testimony of former years wasn’t being replaced by FOLLY in later years. Can people count on continued maturity and wisdom from you?

To offer a positive message, we must stay engaged in the world that needs truth while longing for the life to come! We cannot retire from truth and we dare not leave our post until God calls us home. Stay actively engaged in your walk with God, and continue to add to the old testimony NEW ENCOUNTERS with God and other people!

4. Daniel stayed engaged, because he had lived long enough not be bought off by trinkets that meant little in the longer frame of life (5:13-17).

Daniel 5: 13 Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the exiles from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? …15 “Just now the wise men and the conjurers were brought in before me that they might read this inscription and make its interpretation known to me, but they could not declare the interpretation of the message. 16 “But I personally have heard about you, that you are able to give interpretations and solve difficult problems… 17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Keep your gifts for yourself or give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription to the king and make the interpretation known to him.

By the time Daniel was called in before the king, fortune he couldn’t eat meant little. Fame was only a bother to him when he took walks in the city. Power was something he had much of in his life, and watched it pay few lasting dividends. Pleasure was limited to a good stew, a warm fire and some pleasant company.

What I am trying to say is that he had grown in life to see the world for what it was – a temporary mess that held fleeting joys. Life is GOOD, but it isn’t the final object for the person who understands the value of knowing God and living for the eternal. That is your strength as a believer. You can enjoy good food, but not get lost in the need for bigger and more elaborate banquets. You can laugh without needing endless folly. You can see the difference between people who are using people to get “ahead” and people who know that the front of the line isn’t much better than the back of it. Daniel stayed engaged because he could add a sense of reality to a world lost in the search for filling pockets with holes and insatiable appetites.

5. Daniel stayed engaged so that when his moment came, he was ready to be used of God! (5:13-29):

The story concluded:

Daniel 5:18 “O king, the Most High God granted sovereignty, grandeur, glory and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father. … 22 “Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, 23 but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand. But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and all your ways, you have not glorified. 24 “Then the hand was sent from Him and this inscription was written out. 25 “Now this is the inscription that was written out: ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.’ 26 “This is the interpretation of the message: ‘MENE’—God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. 27 “ ‘TEKEL’—you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. 28 “ ‘PERES’—your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.” 29 Then Belshazzar gave orders, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom.

God provided a testimony by means of His engaged servant. This was a man who lived his disciplines daily. Let me warn you – disengagement is an undisciplined life! The enemy of staying engaged is the “but first” syndrome – that robs our days of accomplishment… Someone explained it this way:

I have recently been diagnosed with the “But First syndrome”. You know, it’s when I decide to do the laundry, I start down the hall and notice the newspaper on the table. OK, I’m going to do the laundry…..
• BUT FIRST I’m going to read the newspaper . Then, I notice the mail on the table. OK, I’ll just put the newspaper in the recycle stack…..

• BUT FIRST I’ll look through that pile of mail and see if there are any bills to be paid. Yes, now where’s the checkbook? Oop’s….. there’s the empty glass from yesterday on the coffee table. I’m going to look for that checkbook…..

• BUT FIRST I need to put the glass in the sink. I head for the kitchen, look out the window, notice my poor flowers need a drink of water. I put the glass in the sink, and darn it, there’s the remote for the TV on the kitchen counter. What’s it doing here? I’ll just put it away…..

• BUT FIRST I need to water those plants.. Head for the door and….. Aaaagh! Stepped on the cat. Cat needs to be fed. Okay, I’ll put that remote away and water the plants…..

• BUT FIRST I need to feed the cat….. End of day; Laundry is not done, newspapers are still on the floor, glass is still in the sink, bills are unpaid, checkbook is still lost, and the cat ate the remote control….. And, when I try to figure out how come nothing got done all day, I’m baffled because….. (author unknown).

I want to call you to remain engaged. Don’t substitute RAGE with ENGAGEMENT! Don’t grouse instead of praying. Be stirred, but not soured by life. God has you here for a purpose!

To offer a positive message, we must stay engaged in the world that needs truth while longing for the life to come!

Shine the Light: “Seven Steps to Effective Sharing of Truth” – Daniel 4

late-employeeYou have an employee, and they keep coming into work late. At first it was a minute or two, and you overlooked it. In a matter of months it increased, and almost every day they arrived ten to fifteen minutes after their appointed time, and often left a few minutes early. What should you do? You have essentially two choices available to convince them to do right: you can use what leadership experts call “SOFT persuasion”, or you can opt for “HARD persuasion”. Most of us are familiar with HARD persuasion from our homes. It sounds like this: “If you walk through that door one minute late again, you will be sent home without pay for the rest of the day!” Hard persuasion sounds to me like nice words for “threat”. Soft persuasion comes most often in the form of the “carrot” – not the “stick”. In the case of soft persuasion, the you might say to the employee something like this: “I know that you have been struggling to be on time, and I know I haven’t said much in the past – but this is really getting to be a habit I cannot tolerate. Let’s do this. If you will work at being on time every day for the next two months, I will reconsider that raise request you made last quarter. I am rooting for you to win, so that both of us will win!”

Let’s be honest: some of us HATE the idea of the soft persuasion. We think the “carrot” approach is intrinsically weak and wimpy, and it grates us the wrong way. WE got threatened when we were coming up through the ranks, and we want people to stop wimping out and suck it up and do their jobs – or get in the unemployment line. All this “whining” and “hand out” based culture has gotten under our skin. Now, we walk into church, and you want to hear “straight truth” – you know, the kind that reminds us of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God”. C’mon preacher – give it to us! Don’t soften sin – let ‘em have it! Tell them that God is in Heaven about to really unload on this sin-sick nation of lazy and perverted men. Some believers seem to have been sucking green persimmons….

Let me ask you something: Is fire and brimstone all that we have in the arsenal against a rising tide of ungodly promotions by people in power? Can we offer both a positive word and a loving spirit amid darkening days of proud paganism and its arrogant boasting?

As we open the record of a believer of long ago, we will note that Daniel found significant ways to have a positive impact in very dark places without losing his grip on kindness and gentle force! God didn’t just use him a long time ago, but provided the record that we might see and emulate him! This lesson isn’t so much about our message – which does not change – but about our method – which must adapt to the hearer. Why? The answer is simple…

Key Principle: Effective outreach is when the world about us can truly hear what we are trying to say and respond correctly to it.

Five Quick Facts about Daniel the Man:

Before we delve into the writing of Daniel 4, it might be good to remind ourselves about the man who God used to record the story. He was a believer, flawed but faithful. God superintended his writing to tell God’s story. There are a few things to remember:

1. His name means “God is my Judge”. He lived up to his name – and didn’t let the culture around him determine his message. He took his cues from God, and God used his life.

2. He was from an aristocratic family (Daniel 1:3), and was carried into Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II (1:1) in the third year (4th by Jewish reckoning) of Jehoiakim’s reign (606 BCE). He wasn’t in a comfortable place – but on a pagan campus that didn’t match his value system taught at home.

3. He was born in his homeland Israel (most likely in Judah), during the reforms of King Josiah (c. 621 BCE) and lived at least until about 536 BCE. He started life surrounded by a revival for God’s Word – and spent most of it in the “moral sludge of paganism”.

4. God honored Daniel and gave him great understanding to qualify as one of the “wise men” (Daniel 1:20;2:13) of the nation. He was given the gift of dreams, visions and their interpretation. His place didn’t determine his lifestyle – his commitment to follow God did. In the end, it wasn’t his parentage nor his environment that set the course for his destiny – it was his set of deliberate choices.

5. Daniel was used by God for over eighty years and offered a “long record” of being God’s servant in a dark place. He isn’t an example of how to do “flash in the pan” ministry – but rather sustained a walk with God in a place where few could for decades of life. Daniel offered and encouraging example of a man who fearlessly worshiped the God of Israel in a forced exile far away from the Temple system of worship and sacrifice.

The Writing: The Purpose of the Book of Daniel

As we take lessons from the book, we should occasionally stop and familiarize ourselves with the “whole” of the narrative. Three things we should bear in mind that help us understand the book as it has been kept by God for us:

1. Daniel is a bilingual writing, with a Hebrew introduction and ending (1:1-2:4a; 8-12 respectively). The other portion of the book is in Aramaic, the common diplomatic Gentile language of his day (2:4b-7:28). That means that part of the book was more focused on the Jewish people and what will happen to them, and part was God’s outreach manual to the pagan world surrounding the exiled Jewish people.

2. Daniel offers a theme that demonstrates the absolute truth and superiority of “El Elyon” (the God of Abraham) over all the world – Gentiles as well as Hebrews, as the Aramaic section of the book unfolds. Daniel’s life message was this: God is in charge of everyone – even those who don’t believe in Him.

3. The book’s theme appears to shift in emphasis when the Hebrew language resumes in chapter 8, focusing the control of God on the program He planned for His own people. God planned not only chastisement and shame for them (which they were experiencing surrounded by pagans) but a future restoration and prominence.

The point of the book seems to be this: God is in charge. He is in charge of those who GET that He is in charge – but He is also in charge of those who DON’T. He has a special and more complete message about events to those who BELIEVE, but He doesn’t need man’s belief to be fully SOVEREIGN.

The Situation in Chapter Four

Let’s move in on our story as we unfold the scroll to chapter four. We open the story in progress….Daniel was dropped on to a pagan campus, surrounded by godless men with their lusts for power and control – and God gave him opportunities to share the truth of His God unapologetically before them. A great example is unfolding. It began with a proclamation of a lesson learned by a great king of long ago. Listen to the proclamation and see if you can pick out the events that brought the story to this point:

Daniel 4:1 Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples, nations, and [men of every] language that live in all the earth: “May your peace abound! 2 “It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me. 3 “How great are His signs And how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and His dominion is from generation to generation. 4 “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace. 5 “I saw a dream and it made me fearful; and [these] fantasies [as I lay] on my bed and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. 6 “So I gave orders to bring into my presence all the wise men of Babylon, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. 7 “Then the magicians, the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners came in and I related the dream to them, but they could not make its interpretation known to me. 8 “But finally Daniel came in before me, whose name is Belteshazzar according to the name of my god, and in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and I related the dream to him, [saying], 9 O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, since I know that a spirit of the holy gods is in you and no mystery baffles you, tell [me] the visions of my dream which I have seen, along with its interpretation. 10 Now [these were] the visions in my mind [as I lay] on my bed: I was looking, and behold, [there was] a tree in the midst of the earth and its height [was] great. 11 The tree grew large and became strong and its height reached to the sky, and it [was] visible to the end of the whole earth. 12 Its foliage [was] beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it [was] food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches, And all living creatures fed themselves from it. 13 I was looking in the visions in my mind [as I lay] on my bed, and behold, an [angelic] watcher, a holy one, descended from heaven. 14 He shouted out and spoke as follows: “Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, Strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit; Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches. 15 “Yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, But with a band of iron and bronze [around it] In the new grass of the field; And let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, And let him share with the beasts in the grass of the earth. 16 “Let his mind be changed from [that of] a man and let a beast’s mind be given to him, And let seven periods of time pass over him. 17 “This sentence is by the decree of the [angelic] watchers And the decision is a command of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes And sets over it the lowliest of men.

That’s it. That was the opportunity that Daniel was given to look into the eyes of the most powerful man alive and tell him about the God of Heaven. Daniel stepped up to the task. Our lesson is about how he did it – because we are increasingly being called upon to share God’s Word with people who have little connection to Him – and know little of His love – like the king of long ago in this passage.

Notice three things about the encounter the king had, according to the official testimony:

• First, he recognized in it that there were two worlds – a physical one and a spiritual one. He showed some spiritual sensitivity to God. He wasn’t just asking about theoretical ideology – he had an inkling that there was something spiritual happening.

• Second, he wasn’t prepared for the way the message intruded on his comfortable life. God was at work – and it wasn’t as a result of some search the king began.

• Finally, the king took from his encounter (according to the decree) a message of God’s Sovereignty and man as the subject of the Mighty One of Heaven. He got the point of the lesson after he encountered Daniel.

Here is my question. How did Daniel get the message across to the king? Did he threaten him with hellfire and brimstone? Did he pander to him? How did he speak truth to power, but keep calm and not water down a tough message? It is a lesson for our time…

Seven Steps to Effective Sharing of Truth

1. Daniel based his presentation on the REPUTATION of his life (4:18). Your life gives you the opportunity to speak into the lives of others.

Daniel 4:18 This is the dream [which] I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now you, Belteshazzar, tell [me] its interpretation, inasmuch as none of the wise men of my kingdom is able to make known to me the interpretation; but you are able, for a spirit of the holy gods is in you.’

Build your testimony in every life choice you make – big and small. People follow YOU before they follow your message. Live the clarity of your message. Jesus can be seen BEST in a life that doesn’t cloud His reflection. Maybe it is best to offer a simple illustration:

A reporter once asked Albert Einstein’s wife if she understood the theory of relativity. She replied, “No, but I know Albert, and he can be trusted.”

Don’t forget that people are ALWAYS watching your life. There are times when I have – and I have always regretted it. I think of an old story that helps me remember that people have their eye on my choices:

There was a bus driver that gave the new visiting preacher too much change. The Pastor sat in his seat, looked at the change, and was conflicted. He was new to town and didn’t want to make a big deal, but he was sure he got too much change. After a few minutes on the ride, the Pastor went to the driver and said, “Excuse me sir, I am new in town, so I may not have figured this whole thing out, but it looks to me like I got too much money back in change.” The driver replied, “Many thanks! I knew that you were the new Pastor in town and I just wanted to decide whether I wanted to go to your church or not!” (A-Z Sermon Illustrations).

Notice that Daniel wasn’t trying to show with his life that HE was more capable – but the passage clearly stated that the king knew it was the INDWELLING of God’s Spirit that made him able. It isn’t our job to make people think we are great – because we aren’t. It is our job to allow the work of God within us to shine through our lives and touch them. In the time of trouble, they will acknowledge that God has been working there, and they noticed it before.

2. Daniel showed SINCERE CARING for Nebuchadnezzar. (4:19). Even when he shared hard words, he did it with a heart broken to have harm come to the king.

Daniel 4:19 “Then Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, was appalled for a while as his thoughts alarmed him. The king responded and said, ‘Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation alarm you.’ Belteshazzar replied, My lord, [if only] the dream applied to those who hate you and its interpretation to your adversaries!

Wasn’t this the king that took him from his home country in 606 BCE? Why should he care? You will not have a positive impact on people that believe that you hate them – even if you totally disagree with their life choices. It is in both loving them and in speaking truth that we reach effectively into the lives of others.

In an article in Campus Life a young nurse writes of her pilgrimage in learning to see in a patient the image of God beneath a very “distressing disguise.” Eileen was one of her first patients, a person who was totally helpless. “A cerebral aneurysm (broken blood vessels in the brain) had left her with no conscious control over her body,” the nurse wrote. “As near as the doctors could tell Eileen was totally unconscious, unable to feel pain and unaware of anything going on around her. It was the job of the hospital staff to turn her every hour to prevent bedsores and to feed her twice a day, “what looked like a thin mush through a stomach tube.’” Caring for her was a thankless task. “When it’s this bad,” an older student nurse told her, “you have to detach yourself emotionally from the whole situation…” As a result, more and more Eileen came to be treated as a thing, a vegetable … But the young student nurse decided that she could not treat Eileen like the others had treated her. She talked to her, sang to her, encouraged her and even brought her little gifts. One day when things were especially difficult and it would have been easy for the young nurse to take out her frustrations on the patient, she was especially kind. It was Thanksgiving Day and the nurse said to the patient, “I was in a cruddy mood this morning, Eileen, because it was supposed to be my day off. But now that I’m here, I’m glad. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss seeing you on Thanksgiving. Do you know this is Thanksgiving?” Just then the telephone rang, and as the nurse turned to answer it, she looked quickly back at the patient. Suddenly, she writes, Eileen was “looking at me … crying. Big damp circles stained her pillow, and she was shaking all over.” That was the only human emotion that Eileen ever showed any of them, but it was enough to change the whole attitude of the hospital staff toward her. Not long afterward, Eileen died. The young nurse closes her story, saying, “I keep thinking about her … It occurred to me that I owe her an awful lot. Except for Eileen, I might never have known what it’s like to give myself to someone who can’t give back.”

Men and women, we must stop seeing people in the abstract – and see them as God’s wondrous creations! The most heinous example of a loose-living celebrity, caustic to our faith with their every sentence, must be seen differently than our fallen heart desires to consider. Disdain is not the beginning of outreach, love is. In an effort to be clear about right and wrong in a day when that clarity has been lost in the public square, many of us have turned sour and mean. We have to admit it, because soured hearts are not surrendered ones….Can we not see that the absolute worst nightmare of a politician in our day is STILL a man or woman – a person with feelings, hopes aspirations and dreams. They get cold in the blowing wind, and they have times of loneliness and boredom. They aren’t JUST the public persona of the media – they are people. We must remember to see them as God’s created beings or we will speak of them as things – and that won’t reach anyone. Jesus made them. He loved them enough to come and die for them. We must recall the caring in our hearts and voices to reach lost people.

3. Daniel wasn’t short on PRAISE FOR GOOD THINGS in the life of the one that was not living what God desired.

He wasn’t faking it, or apple polishing – that wasn’t his style. He was praising what he could! (4:20-22)…

Daniel 4:20 The tree that you saw, which became large and grew strong, whose height reached to the sky and was visible to all the earth 21 and whose foliage [was] beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which [was] food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt and in whose branches the birds of the sky lodged—22 it is you, O king; for you have become great and grown strong, and your majesty has become great and reached to the sky and your dominion to the end of the earth.

We have to be observant for good things, and we have to admit we don’t always know the value of things, much less of people! We hear stories like that of Ted and Virginia from Arizona. Their story was found on “Antiques Roadshow” a few years back on PBS. Ted inherited a blanket from an aunt, and not caring much for the blanket, just threw it on a chair in the bedroom. There it stayed for years until the “Antiques Roadshow” came through Tuscon. Just for kicks, Ted and Virginia carried the blanket (the aunt told them it was Kit Carson’s) to see if it was worth anything, thinking perhaps it might be worth a couple of thousand dollars. Donald Ellis was the appraiser that day, and he almost fainted when he saw the blanket. Turns out the blanket was an original Navajo creation dating to the early 1800’s, of which only fifty remain in existence, and none in the condition of Ted and Virginia’s. Mr. Ellis appraised the blanket on the show for $350,000. Ted and Virginia sold the blanket at auction for close to half a million dollars. From trash to treasure…indeed. (author unknown).

Can we not readily admit that we are adept at picking out the flaws of people, but are far less able to quickly cite what is GOOD about them? If you want to reach people, you must become a student of people – able to see more keenly their possibilities and not simply their flaws.

4. Daniel SPOKE TRUTH but with a broken heart for his king! (4:23).

I think it is important that we recognize that he didn’t shrink back and compromise the truth, but he also didn’t enjoy the message of judgment.

Daniel 4:23 In that the king saw an [angelic] watcher, a holy one, descending from heaven and saying, “Chop down the tree and destroy it; yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, but with a band of iron and bronze [around it] in the new grass of the field, and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts of the field until seven periods of time pass over him,

A teenage boy was diagnosed with cancer and as a result was in the hospital for several weeks to undergo radiation treatments and chemotherapy. During that time, he lost all of his hair. On the way home from the hospital, he was worried-not about the cancer, but about the embarrassment & shame of going back to school with a bald head. The fear of being laughed at, ridiculed & mocked. He had already decided not to wear a wig or a hat. When he arrived home, he walked in the front door and turned on the lights. To his surprise, about fifty of his friends jumped up and shouted, “Welcome home!”’ The boy looked around the room and could hardly believe his eyes-all fifty of his friends had shaved their heads! Wouldn’t we all like to have caring friends who were so sensitive and committed to us that they would sacrifice their hair for us if that’s what it took to make us feel affirmed, included, and loved? (sermon central illustrations). The friends didn’t change the truth of the situation, but they communicated a heart to walk through the fire with their friend!

Daniel didn’t flinch in the message to try and change the coming judgment of the king – he delivered the message faithfully, though he knew the horror of its sound. Consider this: the message that the king was soon to be reduced to an animal needed to be delivered to the king to whom the message was aimed. It wasn’t Daniel’s choice to make it happen, but it was his job to deliver the message no matter how he felt about it.

Let me ask you to do something: Make sure you feel the pain of hell for those in our world before you proclaim it as the destination of lost men. I don’t want to flinch, but I want to feel the message. Cold hearts reach no one, and spread only death. Feel pain when the Gospel makes clear the requirement to know Christ for life eternal – or something is missing inside you that God wants to use.

5. Daniel CONNECTED THE MESSAGE to God’s perspective on the future judgment (4:24-25).

Not a single sentence of interpretation was offered by Daniel that wasn’t smothered with the sauce of God’s decree. Daniel wasn’t offering HIS idea, but telling God’s path forward…

Daniel 4:24 “This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: 25 that you be driven away from mankind and your dwelling place be with the beasts of the field, and you be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.

We have the privilege of connecting God’s Word to people’s lives in a positive way. This characteristic was well demonstrated by the nineteenth century missionary named John Selwyn, sent to the South Pacific, after having built a reputation as a renowned boxer and man of great strength. During his years in the South Pacific, he had occasion to strongly rebuke a native, and that native struck him violently across his face. Selwyn responded by folding his arms and looking intently into the eyes of the native, who realized that Selwyn could easily have knocked him cold. But Selwyn made not the slightest effort to retaliate and simply gazed at him with loving concern. The native ran into the jungle, too ashamed to face this missionary. Several years after John Selwyn had returned home, that same native came forward to confess Christ and be baptized by Selwyn’s replacement. When asked what new name he wished to be called by, the native replied, “Call me John Selwyn, for it was he who taught me what Jesus Christ is like.” (sermon central illustrations).

Daniel looked the king in the eye and said: “You are going to eat grass and lie in the field.” Yet, he didn’t stop there. He connected the truth to the lesson. God is going to teach you something you need to know through the experience. He didn’t have an enviable position, but he had a necessary one – and so do we.

6. Daniel SHOWED THE HOPE of the return of the king! (4:26).

The message of God offered hope even in the face of judgment – that is why God offered it! He kept speaking…

Daniel 4:26 And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that [it is] Heaven [that] rules.

In the Bible, God offered a message of judgment to a man facing judgment… and you need to ask a simple question. Why would He do that? Why not just take the man off the throne and put him out to pasture? Why not simply conclude that the man refused to follow God and His Word, and so he should be left to his own judgment?

Men and women, we don’t understand God at all when we conclude such things. That fact, that the king was a sinner who did not yield to God, has been true of every member of our race since Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden. There have been no natural exceptions – though there was one unnaturally introduced Messiah to that scene. The message of hope is the message of the Cross. God JUDGED your sin in Christ – and wants your life surrendered. The HOPE of the message is found in this truth: we don’t have to face the end without the knowledge of what God is saying… and even more….

7. Daniel OFFERED AN ALTERNATIVE to the coming judgment (4:27).

We don’t have to face the end without the opportunity to avert the coming judgment altogether. It is our simple choice…

Daniel 4:27 Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by [doing] righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to [the] poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.

Many of us act in our lives like we are forced to continue in rebellion against God. Yielding may be TOUGH, but it is not IMPOSSIBLE! I think of something author Gary Thomas wrote years ago about people in marriage disputes….He wrote: “I don’t believe couples fall out of love—they fall out of repentance.” (“Putting Yourself Last” Marriage Partnership, Winter 1999).

Can you see it? You aren’t forced to follow a wrong direction – we are CHOOSING to face judgment by not accepting God’s way out….That is our message. That is how we can be heard…

Effective outreach is when they can hear what we truly are trying to say and respond to it.

Let me close with a simple story that says what Daniel was doing in one single paragraph, and ask the believers pulling through this lesson to consider “getting on board”:

Author and teacher, Dr. Howard Hendricks tells the story of a young man who strayed from the Lord but was finally brought back by the help of a friend who really loved him. When there was full repentance and restoration, Dr. Hendricks asked this Christian how it felt away from the Lord. The young man said it seemed like he was out at sea, in deep water, deep trouble, and all his friends were on the shore hurling biblical accusations at him about justice, penalty, and wrong. “But, there was one Christian brother who actually swam out to get me and would not let me go. I fought him, but he pushed aside my fighting, grasped me, put a life jacket around me, and took me to shore. By the grace of God, he was the reason I was restored. He would not let me go.” (sermon central illustrations).

Why not consider dropping the rock of accusation on the shore, and taking a swim out to a struggling friend?

Shine the Light: “The Puppet Masters” – Daniel 3

Dan Brown InfernoOver the past few weeks, when I get a few minutes for entertainment reading, I have been pouring over Dan Brown’s book Inferno, a fascinating story set in Florence, Italy – the city famous for the home of Dante Alighieri, the famous poet author from the dawn of the fourteenth century. Dan Brown is a good story teller, which is evidenced by the popularity of one release after another. I am only a third of the way through this book, but I admit the plot does grab you, and thrust you into the fictional story. The characters seem quite believable. I won’t take the time to explain his tale, except to say that the premise of the book is that there is a shadow organization that is at work behind many seemingly unconnected events on the international stage, working for clients that have their own agenda. What would appear to be a car accident in one country, and a boating accident a month later in another – were actually connected plots that would take enormous effort to detect – and that was by design.

I admit that I am not a conspiracy theorist by nature. I tend to be a skeptic about many of these “so-called plots” that swirl around. Yet, I do believe that behind men and women of power, a case can be made that other forces are at work – and perhaps those forces are more organized than I have been able to grasp. I don’t know – the world is a big place, and I am not knowledgeable enough to conclude much about sweeping agendas and powerful strings. At the same time, when I look back into God’s Word, I find a story that reads like one of Dan Brown’s plot lines. The one I want to consider in this lesson is taken from a journal preserved from the sixth century BCE, written by a Babylonian sage who was also named Daniel. His story is so compelling that I would bet Dan Brown would buy this book himself, and his story wasn’t fiction. Let me set the scene:

The room was dark and the shadows many. The men who gathered there treasured darkness, because the words they spoke meant pain, trouble and sometimes even death to those touched by their evil sway. They didn’t want fame – men like these prefer not to be known and celebrated publicly. These are men behind the political scene. They didn’t want to be interviewed on the Sunday morning talk shows from the capitol. These men wanted something much, much more valuable… they wanted power over decision makers. These faceless king makers made sure every word uttered was carefully measured – because power must be carefully guarded if it is to be maintained. They spoke slowly of detail and of plots unfolding in a world that had literally no suspicion at all of the strings of their puppet masters. These political architects carefully wove a plan from three powerful strands. They used the zeal of misplaced religious fervor – for little is as powerful and as adaptable. They blended their plot with a dose of political intrigue and then folded in the basest impulse of all – the pure unbridled arrogance of self-promoting politicians. None of the plotters looked much past their own advancement. They cared little for the lofty goals of civil morality or kingdom longevity – what they craved was growing influence that led to their utter dominance…and they would do whatever it took to secure their place of power.

That is the story Daniel unfolds in chapter three. This time, he isn’t relating his own experience, but rather the experience of three friends that were snatched away from Judah at the same time he was brought to Babylon. Daniel made plain that a king was sucked in by his own ego to making proclamations that hurt believers. Ruthless political players brought persecution down on the heads of believers that put the future of the message of God in Babylon in peril. Yet, the passage isn’t about the problem – it NEVER is. It is about the POWER of God and the confidence we can have in Him!

Last time I tried to convince you that the greatest problem most of us have is the way we VIEW our problems. As I open to chapter three, I am deliberately bypassing the last part of Daniel 2, because I will be handling the prophecy portions of Daniel in detail in a future lesson. I want to continue to press the issue of HOW WE VIEW TROUBLE, because this book addresses it with precision. Chapter three unfolds a principle that I believe is significant…

Key Principle: Dark Times are unique opportunities for piercing light to make a real difference!

Drop into the story of an ancient king who has been reading the mail of sycophants and flatterers and decided on a building project that he thought was a suitable self-tribute:

Daniel 3:1 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which [was] sixty cubits (ninety feet tall) [and] its width six cubits (nine feet wide); he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.

The entire story can be divided into two simple parts – nothing fancier is needed! The first part is the development of the problem, and the second part is the response of the believer.

The Problem Developed (Daniel 3:1-15)

Set up: The enemy of God and His people often uses a familiar cocktail recipe:

First, he misdirected a man of power and influence – in this case the king of one of the great superpowers of the world. Satan’s most effective work begins with the soft blowing of subtle influence pushing along a fragile ego. Think of it: Nebuchadnezzar was the undisputed king of perhaps the world’s most elegant city and most powerful government – and yet he thought what was truly lacking in his kingdom was a ninety foot tall statue of himself. His most pressing issue wasn’t health care, not education, not immigration, not civil rights – he concluded his biggest problem that needed the most serious investment – was his image sculpting. Only one who is thoroughly self-absorbed could draw such a conclusion. When a leader becomes more consumed with image than effect, he has lost his way, and the breath of the enemy has become a driving wind.

Second, he confused the man with religious symbolism – the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from chapter two, (he dreamed of a great statue and the prophet Daniel explained that Nebuchadnezzar played a direct role in the interpretation of its meaning). The image was a statue, and the king got the idea from misguided religious thought that he should build one of himself. Bad theology leads to bad action, but is most often driven by good impulse. How many times has a social program been started by a leader who wanted to help – but their solution actually added many unintended consequences that hurt more than were aided.

Third, ego produced paganism (the celebration of the creation over the Creator), which in turn produced persecution. Clearly the meaning of the dream of rising and falling kingdoms was disclosed by God as something that came from HIM – but the arrogance of the king caused him to dismiss the real lesson – that God is in control of the rise and fall of kingdoms. Dismissal of truth is the beginning of the adoption of error.

Daniel sets the scene well in Daniel 3:1. Here is the truth: The prophet described the scene in detail, as men erected a ninety foot tall statue of their leader for all to see. He understood the OPPORTUNITY of the problem of this new brand of enforced paganism… Powerful people may behave badly and lead with what seems like unending ego, but that doesn’t change the people of God and their mission, nor their passion to follow God and love people… Don’t stop reading Daniel’s account after he details the statue – or you are left with only the problem. That is what the NEWS MEDIA does. It leads you to the intractable issues of our day, and offers the blur of contradictory opinions of pundits from opposite sides of the aisle. God’s Word isn’t about the problem – it is about the platform the problem affords the believer to shine a light that pierces the darkness. That is how it unfolds answers.

Surge: In the face of the enemy at work – the wave of compliance by godless men looks overwhelming!

Daniel 3:2 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent [word] to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. 3 Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces were assembled for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed: “To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and [men of every] language, 5 that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. 6 “But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.” 7 Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and [men of every] language fell down [and] worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.

One of the most startling observations is that darkness can spread at such an alarming rate, with seemingly no obstacle to repulse the dark wave (3:2-7). It is in the face of the tsunami of evil the believer must be calm, and recall that although the conditions may be darkening, but that doesn’t change the people of God and their passion to follow God and love people. God doesn’t allow evil to march forward without a purpose in the telling of His story. The dark setting offers a rich backdrop for light to shine. Witness in dark times is much more profound. No one likes to be hungry, but the joy of a full stomach is all the sweeter if hunger has been experienced – and vanquished.

Break down the verses, and three ideas emerge.

• First, there was a command: Someone takes the lead in sponsoring darkness. In this case, word was spread and the powerful came to dedication (3:2-3). False ideas when presented with the power and symbolism of official channels often gains traction quickly. It is not by mistake that our government tests some social theory in the military – because opposition is slight in a chain of command situation.

• Second, there were conditions: The announcement set clear expectation (3:4-6). A surge like this asserts MIND CONTROL. The king didn’t want allegiance – he wanted worship. He wanted surrender to his will. Evil men cannot tolerate opposition, despite their claim that they are the tolerant ones among us. They don’t want pagan ideas merely installed in our education system – they want unqualified control of our society’s world view. We resist because we know what they want. It isn’t the freedom to live the way they choose – it is the right to force me to agree with them or be removed from the public square. If you doubt me, just become a celebrity and proclaim yourself for “traditional marriage”. You won’t have to condemn anyone. You won’t need to say one negative word. The vilification will be swift and angry – offered by the voices that advocate “tolerance”. It is a rouse, and honest people know it. We must seek to be peaceable and kind, but never passive in defense of truth.

• Third, there was almost uniform conformity: People fell down in obedience with practically no resistance (3:7). We must remember that the moral system of most people allows them to compromise anything to get ahead with those in power. Believers don’t have that luxury, because we serve the King above the king. That is now persecution typically developed in history. The enemy positioned the authorities in such a way that believers could not choose to follow – thereby making them look like the divisive dissidents.

That truth is not a reason for despair – it is a reason for us to live with CLARITY the principles of our Father in Heaven. As the backdrop color of the public square grows in contrast to Biblical values, the people of God stand out more….Consider how profound it will look to have a deeply committed and happy marriage (as defined in the Bible) in the average workplace. These dark days offer us real OPPORTUNITY!

Squeezing: Anger and rage will be vented on any who question the rising evil.

Along with the set up of the enemy and the surge of the crowd, there is one more feature that we observe as the dark clouds of trouble gather for a follower of God. It is the deliberate SQUEEZING of God’s people. Watch how it happened in the story…

Daniel 3:8 For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. 9 They responded and said to Nebuchadnezzar the king: “O king, live forever! 10 “You, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe and all kinds of music, is to fall down and worship the golden image. 11 “But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. 12 “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, [namely] Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”

The issue is about one thing… control: The enemy will use the dark days to try and wipe out God’s message and messengers (3:8-12). He may even use those who were respectful and helpful just a short time before.

Look closely. What happened to these three Hebrews was out of their CONTROL. They hadn’t done anything wrong. God wasn’t punishing them for something they had done. SOMETIMES, things happen to us which are beyond our CONTROL. It’s not our fault. In those moments, remember that LIFE IS IN GOD’S CONTROL – not the control of godless men! When we despair at the wickedness we blunt the knowledge of God’s sovereignty! We can spend our time trying to find who is to blame, or trying to discern what God wants us to produce in the face of the problem.

• The believers were not trying to be in the way, but they attracted the ire of the Chaldeans. Jealous of their independence, the Chaldeans raised an accusation (3:8).

• The unbelieving leaders appeared to have an “in” with the king, and used that to set up persecution cloaked as a necessary nationalism and public good. (3:9-11).

• The unbelievers framed the intent of the believers as hostile to the power of the state. (3:12). Here is the truth: Lying about the believer’s intentions is not a new ploy – but a tried and true strategy. Rather than be appalled, we need to be prepared to stand up to false worship, as well as be prepared to address positively why we do what we do.

The squeeze became obvious as the king had the offenders dragged in:

Daniel 3:13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? 15 “Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, [very well]. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”

Faced with a choice from which there was clearly no escape – the faith of three men became crystal clear. This is the point of the problem – God wanted to show something to the king, and he chose to do it through the lives of these three men.

The Believers Responded (Daniel 3:16-30)

Contest: First, they faced the challenge – Put God above self. (3:13-15).

Look at the king’s question! But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”

He had no idea there is an affirmative answer to the idea that there was a God that could save them from his authority… and he was completely WRONG! Believer, don’t confuse confident assertion with certain truth. The king may have believed he was in charge of all things, but that only lasted until the truth came out in FIRE. Fortunately for him, it was a furnace. For others it will be a forever fire that is not quenched that will show them the truth.

Be careful who you pick a fight with. The king not only CHALLENGED God when he set up the image for all to worship him … he CHALLENGED God for His ability to do anything about it. Nebuchadnezzar was on very dangerous ground.

Here is a truth that may not be popular – but we must grasp it: God may decide to offer YOU or ME – our lives – to win another to Himself. Ask our missionaries if that is easy – if they are honest they will tell you it is not. God has the right, and God knows the plan. Is it not a deep privilege to be used by the Creator to bring salvation to others? The contest is within the believer, but the conditions that make it clear are often in the world around him or her. The furnace and the throne became the platform for a clear testimony – as tough as it was to face it.

Confidence: (3:16-18): They didn’t need to rethink the issue because they knew the king’s King!

Don’t forget: The enemy has every interest in dragging out and dramatizing his power – the power over your body. It is a temporal power, but it is all that he has to work with! The king offered another opportunity for the men to “bail” – a dragging out of the decision process, but the men would have no part in that. Daniel 3:16 “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 “If it be [so], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18″But [even] if [He does] not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.

Can you pick out the confidence in these men? When we truly encounter God, we aren’t nearly as impressed with human power, accomplishment and ability! Temporal power pales before eternal. That is why a Biblical world view is so critical… it will provide a foundation under the choices of our lives. If God is really in control, the enemy has a limitation on him. Whatever passes into my life passes the approval of God’s hand before it arrives to me.

Consider this: A submarine has enormous pressure on the hull as it sinks deeply in the ocean. It is only the inner counter pressure of the air that stops the outer pressure from collapsing the vessel into itself. By the same token – The world is trying to shape you into its image … shape you into its mold. We aren’t to be shaped by OUTSIDE forces … BUT … by the INSIDE strength and domination of the Holy Spirit. When you surrender to God’s power and allow the work of the Spirit to take over within, you protect against collapse to the outer pressure to conform!

We cannot deny that part of what shapes us is the outer force as well. With no resistance, believers become weak and unchallenged.

In their book, We Let Our Son Die, Larry and Lucy Parker recount the tragic story of a misguided faith. In painful and painstaking detail, Larry and his wife paint the picture of how they had come to believe that if they just had enough faith, God would heal their diabetic son. Eventually, their son Wesley got ill and needed insulin. Believing that God would heal Wesley, they withheld the insulin and, predictably, Wesley lapsed into a diabetic coma. The Parkers, warned by some about the impropriety of not having enough faith, believed that God would heal Wesley. Unfortunately, Wesley died. But even after Wesley’s death, the Parkers, undaunted in their “faith,” conducted a resurrection service rather than a funeral service. In fact, for more than a year following his death, they refused to abandon their firmly held faith that Wesley, like Jesus, would rise from the dead. Eventually, both Larry and Lucy were tried and convicted of manslaughter and child abuse.

A tragic story? Yes. But even more tragic is that countless other stories with a flawed concept of faith that inevitably leads to shipwreck—sometimes spiritually, in other cases physically, and in still other scenarios, both. Many Christians believe that the Bible teaches that faith is confidence in a certain outcome. In our text, they did not pretend to know what was going to happen to them. These words may trouble you. Perhaps you want to say, “Oh, no, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! No ifs, ands, or buts. Believe without doubting.” But these men did not operate on today’s popular notion of what faith should be. Theirs was a biblical faith. God will do what He chooses, not what I choose. I control nothing, but He never leaves me in the process.

Companionship: By becoming servants like Jesus, they shared time with Him!

Watch the story finish with testimony:

Daniel 3:19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. 20 He commanded certain valiant warriors who [were] in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in order to cast [them] into the furnace of blazing fire. … 24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.” 25 He said, “Look! I see four men loosed [and] walking [about] in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of [the] gods!” 26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. 27 The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around [and] saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire [even] come upon them. 28 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 “Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” 30 Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon.

Three men were hurled into a fiery furnace, but One was already in the fire waiting for them to arrive. The powerful men of the world stood outside in awe, while the King of the Ages had a little “pep talk” time with His faithful friends. In time, the men walked out of that furnace and showed the power of the God they served. All this happened because they completely understood, and lived out one essential truth: Their lives were not their own. Their troubles were nothing less than God’s platform to use each of them to speak to others. Every believer must face that difficult lesson… We aren’t always going to be protected from troubles, but we do get two opportunities.

First, with trouble we are given an opportunity to display God’s love and power.

Second, in the fire of trouble God draws nearer to us that we have ever known before!

Let’s say it plainly: when we fear the fire more than God – we become ineffective and uncertain in testimony. When we recognize we are His – He uses us profoundly..

Author Tim Hansel tells the story about the day he and his son Zac were out in the country, climbing around in some cliffs. He heard a voice from above him yell, “Hey Dad! Catch me!” He turned around to see Zac joyfully jumping off a rock straight at him. Zac had first jumped and then yelled “Hey Dad!” Tim became an instant circus act, catching Zac. They both fell to the ground. For a moment after Tim caught Zac he could hardly talk. When he found his voice again he gasped in exasperation: “Zac! Can you give me one good reason why you did that???” Zac responded with remarkable calmness: “Sure! Because you’re my Dad.” Zac’s whole assurance was based on the fact that his father was trustworthy. He could live life to the hilt because his father could be trusted.

Don’t forget! Dark Times are opportunities for light to make a real difference!

Shine the Light: “Six Positive Truths about Life’s Problems” – Daniel 2:1-23

problemsIt seems that everyone you know has problems – but some are overtaken by them. Listen to the people in your life. Each one has something going on that makes them uncomfortable. Some have MANY things in their lives that are difficult. Still others are inundated by life’s troubles. Many people think their problem is as simple as “not having enough money” or “running out of time”. When you talk to families, the problems they mention include “communication” or “boundary issues”. When you talk co-workers, they may tell you they “just need another job”. When you get time with dear friends – a couple you have known well – they may tell you of “intimacy issues”. People will tell you of literally dozens of things they think would make them happy – if only they could change the conditions of their life. Behaviorists and life coaches have assembled some of the problems they hear of most from their clients:

1. Dread: Many of us live with a sense of foreboding about life. We are afraid we will not have enough money to make it through the month. We are afraid of some people because of unresolved issues in our past. We face new situations with such fear that we are often robbed of enjoying them. With each passing year, we have to work harder at keeping a sense of humor – because so many serious issues are raising uncertainty inside us.

2. Drift: Many people feel like life is passing them by, and they aren’t going anywhere. They want to make a difference somewhere, and to someone – but it just isn’t happening.

3. Disgrace: Some have deep feelings of worthlessness, or a sense that decisions they made in the past have left them with a deep stain deserving of punishment. They may feel they have an incurable flaw – and they are deeply sensitive to any kind of rejection.

4. Desolation: Some people believe that no one loves them or truly cares about them. They feel alone in this world, as if their presence here matters little to anyone. Often this feeling follows the loss of a life partner sometime after they are alone. Though it is often temporary – it is a deep chasm of emotion.

5. Defensiveness: Some have held old grudges and been bitter for a long time – and those old memories push out when they feel someone may hurt them. Some present themselves as victims – avoiding responsibility for their lives, while other recoil and strike almost without provocation. At the pace of life, many of us report that we have a tendency to respond too quickly to any perceived crisis –often without the tact we wish we would have had. We forget that under the pressures of the day, things can look worse and seem more intractably complex than they truly are. We fail to take the time to gain any real perspective.

6. Doubtfulness: Some people so overthink their lives, they can barely live them. Inner reflection becomes stubborn inertia – and they “get stuck” in their own head.

After years of listening to people talk about their problems, I would like to offer a bold assertion. I think I may know the single biggest problem each of us have – and it is the SAME problem for young and old, single and married, wealthy and poor. It is the problem that acts as the lens to all other problems.

The biggest problem we have is HOW WE VIEW OUR PROBLEMS.

How a man or woman handles the adversity of life may be the best window into their true character. Under pressure, we show much of our true self. Can we see it differently?

Key Principle: Adversity can be another tool for shaping our lives in the hands of a creative God!

Today we continue with the story of four Hebrew men in a pagan culture. These young believers were yanked from their homes and dropped into a world that was foreign in every way– language, culture, and morality. They faced times of temptation, as well as times of peril. Our lesson today includes a record of what happened when they were forced to stare down the barrel of a gun that was sent for their collective executions – an excessive penalty because of others that failed at their task.

Daniel’s life was in peril. The king he served had a dream and told his advisors to both recount the dream and interpret it, or face death by dismemberment. The ill-equipped counselors trembled and bartered for time. In a flash of temper, the king commanded mass executions be planned, and all the wise men of Babylon be gathered for the “culling of the intelligencia”. News got to Daniel, when his “escort to execution” arrived, and he asked for time to seek God, along with his companions.

It occurs to me that Daniel could have been really discouraged that he was again facing difficulties that weren’t directly related to his own failures. His captivity was a result of the failed kings of Judah, and the current threat was the result of a rash king surrounded by slippery godless counselors. Yet, placing blame is wholly unhelpful when facing an imminent firing squad. What Daniel needed was God’s help, or he would soon be visiting God’s eternal home. Rather than grouse at God or blame his fellows – he dropped to his knees in humble request for compassion from Heaven. Serious problems require a serious response – and there is none more serious than prayers offered while staring down the barrel of a gun. Fighting with God keeps us from falling before God – and that is where we belong when in trouble.

Why does God allow problems to assail His followers? Why doesn’t He insulate them from the effects of the Fall of Man? The truth is that times of trouble are often the most significant times for God to show Himself, and teach principles of truth about life we could never hear in the clatter of peace, prosperity and success.

Let’s look at six truths we can grasp when times of trouble rush in upon us:

Truth #1: Moments of trouble are one of God’s chief times of uncovering great truths (2:1).

Daniel 2:1 Now in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him.

Before we dig into verse one, did you notice the term “second year”? Since we know from Daniel 1:5 and 1:18 that Daniel and his friends were already on a three year course, and we see in Daniel 2:13-14 that he appears to have graduated – the term “second year” can pose a problem. There are essentially two possibilities:

• First, Daniel was named a “wise man” with his friends while he was still in training. That is not as likely as the second idea.

• Second, Nebuchadnezzar served for several years under his father Nabopolassar. Once he defeated the Assyrians and their Egyptian allied armies, Nabopolassar turned the throne to his son, Nebuchadnezzar II. Within months of his abdication in 605 BCE, Nabopolassar died of natural causes aged about 53 years. It could be the point of the timing was the second year of the SOLE REIGN of Nebuchadnezzar – or about 604 BCE. One ancient source, a Chaldean historian named Berosus (only now available through other extant sources) stated that Nabopolassar was aged and infirm, and gave up a part of his army to his son Nebuchadnezzar, who defeated the Egyptian host at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and also drove Pharaoh Necho out of Asia. Nebuchadnezzar then marched to Jerusalem and Jehoiakim surrendered to him – the beginning of the seventy years of Babylonian, captivity.

Here is the point of the record of the dream in Scripture…What looks like LIFE DRIVING FORCES aren’t just a series of coincidental events – it is the work of a Providential God! Difficulty is often God’s hand at work shaping His people – sometimes even through the enemy’s powerful plans to defeat them! What the enemy means for one’s destruction – God can use for their good.

Stand in the throne room of Nebuchadnezzar the morning after he roused from half-sleep, grumpy because of his fitful nightmarish restlessness. He was being pushed around by forces stronger than himself, and being a great king wasn’t insulating him from discomfort.

Don’t forget the even celebrities, millionaires and Presidents can have tooth aches. No one is truly in control of life this side of Heaven, no matter how much they think they are. One tiny piece of lead changed a Presidency when I was a child. It was a tragedy, but it reminded the whole country that NO ONE is able to control everything! The king was being pushed by a problem.

Here is the truth: You can be pushed by problems or led by God – it all comes down to your choice of Who or what to follow in life.

While it is true that we must NOT lay our problems passively at another’s feet- but address them and take responsibility for them… it is also equally true that we must have the humility and honesty to recognize that we do not truly control the earth we live on, or the body we live within. Look up. You didn’t hang the stars… One of the truly startling things about the naturalists that pervade in our time is their utter arrogance. They speak boldly – as if the sciences are so thoroughly true and the research is so absolutely consistent. What will shake even the most secular man or woman’s confidence in that arrogance is to look closely enough at the tons of research – only to discover how utterly inadequate we are to discern truth. The king was grousing, and God was simply making a point and creating a drama to display Himself to a guy who THOUGHT he was in charge of the world.

Truth #2: Problems force an unbeliever to use the system they created without God (2:2).

Daniel 2:2 Then the king gave orders to call in the magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king.

Look at the kinds of EXPERTS that were on the payroll of the king:

• There were the “magicians” (khar-tome’: a horoscope reader; as in drawing magical lines or circles. This is someone that reads the world to find answers in the cosmos – a more modern version of superstitious animism. “The universe knows” is their mantra.

• Then there were the “conjurers” (ash-shawf’: a necromancer, or exorcist). This is someone who claims to be able to breach at will the veil between the physical and spiritual world and speak to those beyond the veil (the dead). They use as evidence the ability to hypnotize to persuade people, snakes, etc.

• Next there were the “sorcerers” (a rendering of the Hebrew “mekhashphim”: literally mutterers, men who professed to have power with evil spirits. From kaw-shaf’: to whisper a spell, enchant or practice magic or witchcraft). In the Bible, some of the harshest punishments are given to them, as they claim to direct the spirits of the enemy of the Lord and His people.

• Finally there were the “Chaldeans” (kas-dee’: literally the inhabitants of Chaldea, with a long tradition of wise sayings and formulas). These are the imported experts from think tanks with interesting pedigrees.

These men were educated by the world’s standards. They were degree carrying professors that were FULL OF THEMSELVES. Later, we will note Daniel’s reaction – which was startlingly humble. He was their total opposite. Lost man looks within. Believers know that anything in there is already broken – so they get direction from the Word and in prayer – because the answer is not within. Beyond the Word hidden within (and that is subject to a fading memory) and the Spirit prompting (and that needs to be checked against the Word) – there is little in myself that I can truly trust.

The more educated a man or woman becomes, often the less dogmatic they are about the field of in which they were educated. Do you know why? The answer is this: The best process for learning will inevitably reveal how weak and flawed we are. It is harder to trust ourselves when we see how much the research led us to the wrong conclusions in the past. Don’t fear education – despise the indoctrination that is attempting to pass as education. Real education begins with the knowledge that we aren’t the standard – because the reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The Bible calls those who do not believe in God by the simple term: “fool”. Consider this: when a fool attempts to make others into fools – the result is not real education at all – it is foolish indoctrination with hellish result.

Truth #3: Problems reveal the hopeless cynicism that lurks beneath the surface of the unbelieving world (2:3-9).

There is an old English saying: “There is no honor among thieves”. It points to the problem of building a life surrounded by people with little character. The king of Babylon had such a life…

Daniel 2:3 The king said to them, “I had a dream and my spirit is anxious to understand the dream.” 4 Then the Chaldeans spoke to the king in Aramaic: “O king, live forever! Tell the dream to your servants, and we will declare the interpretation.” 5 The king replied to the Chaldeans, “The command from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you will be torn limb from limb and your houses will be made a rubbish heap. 6 “But if you declare the dream and its interpretation, you will receive from me gifts and a reward and great honor; therefore declare to me the dream and its interpretation.” 7 They answered a second time and said, “Let the king tell the dream to his servants, and we will declare the interpretation.” 8 The king replied, “I know for certain that you are bargaining for time, inasmuch as you have seen that the command from me is firm, 9 that if you do not make the dream known to me, there is only one decree for you. For you have agreed together to speak lying and corrupt words before me until the situation is changed; therefore tell me the dream, that I may know that you can declare to me its interpretation.

The king made clear several times EXACTLY what he wanted. The advisors did all they could to move his firm pronouncement, but the king was stuck on his plan. You have to sympathize with the advisors – even if you don’t like them! There is nothing so dark as recognizing you have met your own end and you are powerless to stop the events that are leading you to it.

Someone has said: “Problems seem most acute when we spend an inordinate time trying to do something about things we can’t do anything about.” Isn’t that a word for our time? Each day we tune into news about a world that seems spinning out of control. It isn’t, but because it isn’t in OUR control, it can feel that way. That is why I find comfort at my Heavenly Father’s feet.

I must be honest with you. If your fulfillment and happiness is dependent upon other people – you had better be sure they are flawless people that cannot and will not turn to selfishness – or you are in deep trouble. I highly recommend you consider placing your full trust in an unchanging God revealed in the Scriptures. My experience has taught me that people are unreliable. My Bible has made clear that my experience is not unique.

The king should have consulted a good football coach like Lou Holtz of yesteryear. He said: “Don’t tell your problems to people: eighty percent don’t care; and the other twenty percent are glad you have them” – Lou Holtz quotes (American Football coach, 1937-1980).

The advisors were stuck, not just by the size of the task, but by the disbelief of the king. He knew they messed with him to tell him what they wanted him to hear. You can tolerate “apple polishers” and sycophants when times are good, but when serious and painful issues arise, you must have around you trusted souls – and they are few and far between.

Truth #4: Problems expose the limits of experts without relationship to their Creator (2:10).

The room was filled with EXPERTS but not with any people who knew God. The elaborate costumes and pageantry could do little in the face of a task that required a certain and reliable link to the spiritual world. Daniel’s journal continued:

Daniel 2:10 The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who could declare the matter for the king, inasmuch as no great king or ruler has [ever] asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean. 11 “Moreover, the thing which the king demands is difficult, and there is no one else who could declare it to the king except gods, whose dwelling place is not with [mortal] flesh.

The next time you hear of “men of science” proving things that are beyond their ability, bear in mind the futility of their quest. If there really is a God in Heaven as the Bible teaches, and there really are one quintillion stars, as astronomers estimate, and there really are literally billions of planets spinning in millions of solar systems, what is the likelihood that a guy in California has the skills and ability to put his mind around all that is and come to the conclusion of how it works?

Let me take this argument from naturalists that are pressing on us. One author stated:

Let’s agree that there is no empirical evidence showing that God exists. If you think about it as a rational person, this lack of evidence is startling. There is not one bit of empirical evidence indicating that today’s “God”, nor any other contemporary god, nor any god of the past, exists. In addition we know that:

• If we had scientific proof of God’s existence, we would talk about the “science of God” rather than “faith in God”.
• If we had scientific proof of God’s existence, the study of God would be a scientific endeavor rather than a theological one.
• If we had scientific proof of God’s existence, all religious people would be aligning on the God that had been scientifically proven to exist. Instead there are thousands of gods and religions.

The reason for this lack of evidence is easy for any unbiased observer to see. The reason why there is no empirical evidence for God is because God is imaginary.” (From website of “

Hmm. Look at the sheer arrogance of the person making such claims.

Their claim is that there is no empirical evidence for God’s existence. The Bible answers simply: “Look up! The organization of the cosmos is not a random phenomenon – but bears every resemblance of a design carefully executed by an Intelligent Creator.

Their claim is that because they don’t call God’s existence a “science” but rather “faith”, He doesn’t exist. The Bible’s claim is simple: The world can make any definitions and claims they like – that doesn’t make their limited observations into absolute truths.

Their claim is that if there was scientific evidence for God, the study of God would be in the field of scientific endeavor, not to a limited study of theology. Look into history that is bigger than the back of a cereal box. For centuries, people like the scientist Isaac Newton – the professor of physics, practiced the craft for EXACTLY the purpose of exposing truths about the Creator. In fact, naturalists deliberately drive teachers that want to do so out of state schools and then have the audacity to use that as proof that science must somehow disprove God. That is like a board of education removing all references to a former President from textbooks and then using the textbooks to prove the guy never held the office!

Here is my point: George Bernard Shaw was right when he wrote: “Science… never solves a problem without creating ten more.” It isn’t because they aren’t trying; it is because they have a limit to what they can observe, and limited minds to do the observation.

Go back to the throne room where Nebuchadnezzar just unloaded on these experts. Note the list of people that were invited and their claims that they could pierce the spiritual world. Why were they now claiming, when placed under the hot lights, that they had no such power (see “whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh”)! When all is said and done – men who claim to know the reaches of eternity from looking into a test tube are overselling their ability. Science can observe some phenomena and help explain some processes – but it cannot see the edges of all that exists, and it cannot explain WHY it exists – that is beyond the ability of man. Only arrogant men claim to know what they cannot know – but sensible people know they are overstating their knowledge.

Truth #5: Problems create a platform for the clear presentation of God’s ability to fix life (2:12-16).

Can I ask you to see a truth that can potentially change the way you look at tomorrow’s hassles? Consider how every problem is a platform for God to show YOU something, and show OTHERS something through your life. At this point in our story… enter a quiet, unassuming and godly man named Dan…

Daniel 2:12 Because of this the king became indignant and very furious and gave orders to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. 13 So the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain; and they looked for Daniel and his friends to kill [them]. 14 Then Daniel replied with discretion and discernment to Arioch, the captain of the king’s bodyguard, who had gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon; 15 he said to Arioch, the king’s commander, “For what reason is the decree from the king [so] urgent?” Then Arioch informed Daniel about the matter. 16 So Daniel went in and requested of the king that he would give him time, in order that he might declare the interpretation to the king.

Daniel heard about the problem after the experts had left the throne room and went home to write their respective “Last Will and Testaments” and kiss their kids goodbye… Watch closely how Daniel responded to the man who brought the news.

• First, Daniel measured the rank of the man with whom he was speaking, and spoke with the discernment of both the situation and the man. He didn’t use bluster, but asked and listened.

• Second, he used a form of the word “ta’am” – the word for TASTE. He tactfully, tastefully, politely but directly asked what situation caused this turn of events.

Daniel recognized that HE couldn’t solve the problem, but he know GOD COULD. He shared with the lost king that if he asked, God COULD make all of it known. He asked for time to see if God WOULD fill the need. (2:16). By now, some Bible students are asking a question inside: “Why did the king let Daniel have time when he was so pushy with the other so-called experts?” I think the issue came down to ONE THING: track record.

Daniel got the benefit of the doubt because Daniel hadn’t tried to personally gain favor from the king in any way. He didn’t use the perks and powers given him to anxiously get MORE PERKS AND POWERS. The king was no idiot. He was a seasoned veteran of one of the world’s largest armies. He was groomed for the task of leadership by a father who was very successful in his own right. The king was a fine judge of character, and knew that Daniel wasn’t blowing smoke up his royal tunic.

Now focus your eyes on Daniel. The believer isn’t in the business of using God’s power to gain power or prestige for himself. A godly man must proceed with caution and wait on God to succeed… or in this case meet God face to face because God didn’t speak. Daniel didn’t need to panic, he needed to pray and seek God’s face for important news. If God chose to solve the problem – the testimony of the Lord would grow. If He did not choose to speak, Daniel would have little unconfessed since the next event in his life would be his last event. In many ways, our problems are God’s opportunity to preach through the sermon of our lives.

Truth #6: Problems give an opportunity to draw us to each other, and eventually to worship and praise of our God (2:17-23)!

Our account of Daniel’s last meeting with his friends before God broke into the story is found in the next few verses. This was a prayer meeting that was as focused as any you will ever experience. No one slept through it. No one let their mind wander. No one was focused on the temperature of the room, the comfort of the chairs or the eloquence of the praying partner. This was a meeting with God – and there is nothing else like it on earth…

Daniel 2:17 Then Daniel went to his house and informed his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, about the matter, 18 so that they might request compassion from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his friends would not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven…

God answered the prayers of the men. He didn’t HAVE TO, but He CHOSE to do so. Daniel got the answer in the same night air that brought the problem to the king in the first place. What he did NEXT reveals what he was INSIDE…

Daniel 2:20 Daniel said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. 21 “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding. 22 “It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him. 23 “To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, For You have given me wisdom and power; Even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, For You have made known to us the king’s matter.”

Daniel worshiped and praised God with some choice words about His wonders.

• God sets up kingdoms and takes them down at will. It isn’t up to the UN, the Congress or the World Court – God can dry up an ocean, or flood a desert. He is unstoppable!

• God can raise up a man or woman to the highest position among their peers – and can just as easily recall them to the dust of the ground. The author of life can place a period in any life He chooses, on any page He chooses.

• God can expose the darkest, shadowed truths – forcing them to roll out into the light. Men become wise by listening and following His Word – humbly, openly and honestly. There is no truth in any other, and there is no knowledge that can be gained apart from Him! Reverence for HIM is the beginning of knowledge.

• God sees what no one else can – period. He has the answer before we have the question – because the answer is found inside of His character. He alone can fulfill, and He alone can truly explain.

Can we not see it clearly? God uses our troubles as His megaphone to a world adrift – but only if we stop fussing at Him and start following Him. Small troubles can build our strength and toughness, while great troubles can offer us a platform from which God can speak. Old troubles can soften us to be an encourager to weaker ones about us – as they pass through the conditioning of their own struggles. It is true…

Adversity can be another tool for shaping our lives in the hands of a Creative God!

Remember these four things:

• We must not run from trouble, but face it squarely.
• We are not big enough to handle it, but God is – and we don’t have to do it alone.
• The “all things” a believer can “through Christ that strengthens him” includes whatever problem you may be facing today.
• Snow White was right, “Someday my Prince WILL come!

Shine The Light: “Finding the Missing Smile” – Daniel 1

smileHow is your smile these days? The market is flooded with dentifrices that can improve the condition of your teeth, but that isn’t the same thing as improving your smile. You see, a smile is more than showing your teeth – that can be a symbol of hostility and not friendship! A smile is more than the uptick at the corners of your lips – some very grumpy people have that as a natural feature. Your smile comes from within if it is real.

How are you doing on the ENCOURAGEMENT side of life? Do you feel beat down by the news surrounding you? Are your friends sharing more and more about illnesses and troubles with you? Are you finding it harder to find peace and happiness in a world charged by extreme voices? Is everything in your life becoming more painfully divided – red state, blue state, conservative, liberal, “pro” this and “anti” that? Are you having a harder time keeping a positive attitude when negativity seems so willing to swirl and curl around your feet like a slithering pithon?

Maybe the problem isn’t where you live, but where you choose to draw encouragement – and that is what we want to explore today in the first chapter of Daniel. Let me set up the story…

Four young men found themselves far from home and surrounded on a campus by pagan parties and godless professors – but they made a difference with their lives that affected their whole nation. How did this happen? They made a singular choice: they would not be pressed into the mold of their times. They took God’s Word seriously, and lived it in front of people who knew little of their God, and had no respect for their beliefs. The four young men did not become belligerent, but did not blend in either. They walked with God when few others did – and that choice made all the difference.

The answer to lasting encouragement is not acquiescing to the world. The answer is not blending into popular opinion. Most believers have enough grounding in the Spirit to know that. At the same time, the answer is NOT found in stubbornness and irritability either. The answer is found in coming to peace through the discovery of “wisdom from above”. Looking at life through the window of God’s wisdom will restore a lasting smile to our face. It is time to smile again!

Look for a moment at James 3:13-18:

3:13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James said, in effect, Walk softly and with a calm compassion among lost men. Consider their plight – to view only the shadows of truth through darkened windows; to hear only muffled sounds of broken conversation from a great distance. Remember, our life has been forever changed by encountering our Creator. We stand in the gentle rain of God’s wisdom – unique, clean, crisp and clear. We experience the cleansing touch of the Creator – being washed by love and warmly embraced as a loved child. Our work now is to learn gentleness that we may sow calmly and yield fruit approved by the One Who called us to this work. Only those who show peace will truly be able to offer peace. Let me say it another way…

Key Principle: Because life is filled with negative people and situations does not mean the believer should be negative.

Even in the garden with weeds, I farm in my Gracious Father’s field! Our attitude truly effects our presentation of Jesus to the lost world…so today we want to address that attitude, and how we can look at life differently. Let’s first recognize a few important concepts:

Our attitude is the tint you apply to the windshield of your life. You see through it according to that tint – and respond to what you see. The issue is that we put the tint on the glass. Consciously or unconsciously – the tint is our doing.

If you think carefully about it, there is very little that distinguishes one person from another that is not easily changed – hair color, shape, dress. The one thing that can make the person stand out is there attitude! I suspect that many of us have encountered people who are lovely in physical form, but ugly in attitude. Their attempts to look nice were a waste – because their attitude showed their lack of character – and that overshadowed all of their other beauty enhancements.

Our attitude may be the single factor that has the biggest impact on people. When we are hit with hardship, but answer with kindness – character is displayed through the instrument of good attitude. It is our attitude that is perhaps the most important governing factor to how we handle adversity!

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azaryahu were four young men who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time – from man’s perspective. They were young – but surrounded by godless influences. They were smart – but they were placed into training in an academy founded on paganism and anti –Yahweh thinking. They were bound under the yoke of the world…yet they were used of God and powerful instruments in His hand. How did they accomplish this? They played life by a set of rules that we want to recognize today, because God preserved them for us:

Rule #1: Recognize God’s hand in your circumstances.

You and I are in God’s hand! See it in the perspective of God’s Control. Note: “The Lord gave” (1:1-2). Daniel’s story began with a record that “In the year 605 the capital city of my people was besieged” (1:1) and “we lost the battle” (1:2a). “Our king was taken into captivity and Temple sacked” (1:2). Look at it closely:

Daniel 1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.

We must recognize two very important truths:

First, life is out of my control.

A man who battled cancer for two years made this clear to me: “Doc, all the things that matter most in my life are the things I don’t control at all.” He continued: “Life’s experiences were largely meant to bring us to the humbling point, where we could strip away our self-reliance and see our need for Christ.” He was right – we don’t control the important things. The Christmas wedding that ended in a car accident that killed the bride this past week is a profound statement that our plans don’t run the table in life.

Second, life is never out of God’s control.

If my city is overrun by pagans, and my worship center sacked and closed to me – that doesn’t mean that God lost control – it means that God is choosing to speak through me, and not my culture. His requirement in my life is NOT LESSENED because there are fewer people around me that believe truth. He knows the time I was placed into – because His plan did the placing. When I bow my knee to His Sovereignty, I acknowledge before Him the right He possesses to direct the plan He has made. The record of Daniel begins, not with a notice of DEFEAT, but a notice of GOD AT WORK.

That is the first step to dealing with my attitude. My countenance rises when I recognize that my circumstances have not victimized me – they are a part of the plan God made for me. That will straighten my posture and renew my confidence. I may not be in control, but God is never out of control!

When I was in High School, Sylvester Stallone was getting beat up in a boxing ring, and running up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, lifting his hands high at the top of the steps – as Rocky Balboa. I don’t recall most of the story. What I do recall is that at one point he was in the ring and getting pummeled in the way that only Balboa could handle. Everyone thought he was losing – but his manager knew different. He said something like: “He isn’t getting beaten, he’s getting mad!” The point of that story is NOT that getting mad was a good thing – but rather the underlying truth. What looks like a defeat ISN’T if there is a plan underneath the gains and losses…

Let that sink in for a moment. When God is in the plan – there are no real “losses” or “victories” – ultimately there is only the plan. When we look at the situation in Central African Republic, we need to recognize that today. When we look at our courts, peeling away from Scripture (and even common sense), we need to recall that. When we follow Him, we have the confidence He can use us in any way He chooses – and that is our delight, not simply our “veil of tears” burden!

Rule #2: Collect the knowledge you need to navigate well.

Keep reading in Daniel 1:

Daniel 1:3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, 4 youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every [branch of] wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and [he ordered him] to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and [appointed] that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service. 6 Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 Then the commander of the officials assigned [new] names to them; and to Daniel he assigned [the name] Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach and to Azariah Abed-nego.

It is obvious that these four men would not be able to live out their lives in monastic isolation and the bubble of Biblical training. Humanly speaking – they were captives. Their education was being deliberately staged and patterned by pagan thinkers – godless men in combination with idolaters – not a Yahwist in the lot! Home schooling wasn’t “on the table”. What to do?

That is where the second rule will come in handy. As beleivers, we will get along much better if we understand the situation surrounding us well and comprehend the actual conditions we are living in – along with the requisite expectations (1:3-7). We must be BOTH students of the Word of God, and careful students of our times – viewing the world through the lens of opportunity to reach out in love and care. How do we do that?

First, assume that EVERY PERSON can teach you something of value and you can learn important information in EVERY SITUATION!

If you start at the bottom of the work chain, you get the best view of every step of the work – if you will do what you do to the best of your abilities. If you and I truly value (and show it) even the person we disagree with the most, we will learn more and get into shouting matches less. The internet is probably the WORST place for this, and the next door neighbor the best. The internet is a great place for grouping – but not a sincere place for learning. Most of the so-called “information sources” aren’t about balance and point-counterpoint argumentation – they are tailor-made for dedicated audiences of one side of a discussion. They quickly descend into SHOUT FESTS and NAME CALLING exhibitions – where we can see the most creative part of the discussion is the symbols people use to say vulgar words that would otherwise be excluded from the comment section. If only people would place as much emphasis on the thinking of their own argument. Remember, everyone can teach you something – even if it is only a window into the thinking of a poorly formed argument. Don’t insult people, even if they insult you. You can stop a discussion at any time, but don’t make people feel small – it harms the Gospel.

Second, don’t measure your effectiveness by societal symbols, but rather by personal interactions and obedient choices on behalf of Christ.

Here is where many a church went in the wrong direction during the years of my career. Some in the church thought our country was Christian, and therefore relaxed explaining the Gospel to their neighbors. They thought the job was being done on radio and TV, and if that wasn’t enough – there were plenty of churches in town to do it. What they forgot was the Gospel isn’t primarily accomplished by a media blitz – or Jesus would have just sent a video instead of coming. All the “Jesus Films” in the world won’t transform the world. Most of the time, the Gospel must be seen in a life before it is adopted in a new heart. The films are a great help to teams that will present Christ in the flesh – but we cannot simply digitize the Bible and wait for people to adopt it – that WON’T work.

Others went the opposite direction. They measured Christianity’s effectiveness by the size and budget of mega-churches. They counted the numbers of Promise Keeping men to measure our faith. Some of those same people assume, now that the “Crystal Cathedral” is defunct, that Christianity is ‘on the ropes’ – and they are wrong. It was ALREADY in deep trouble when the attendance, the corporation model and its budget was the measure for the value of the truth the church contained.

A believer’s identity isn’t primarily found in outward symbols – church buildings, clerical costumes, attendance numbers at public rallies, etc. Christianity is primarily seen in the daily lifestyle choices of those who know and follow Jesus Christ and His Word. That is the argument of “sound doctrine” of Titus 2. Daniel and his friends knew the world could change their Hebrew names, but not take their Hebrew heart away from them. Look at their names, just to recall their heritage:

Daniel 1:6 “Among these were some from Judah:

• Daniel – (name meaning ‘God is my judge’,
• Hananiah, (the Lord has been gracious),
• Mishael, (The one who comes form God),
• Azariah (The Lord is my helper).

Now look at what the chief official replaced the references to their God with as he gave them Babylonian names:

• Daniel, Belteshazzar (the secret of their God Bel),
• Hananiah, Shadrach (“the inspiration of the sun god”,
• Mishael, Meshach (he who belongs to the goddess Sheshach.)
• Azariah, Abednego (servant of Nebo – the morning star).

The world WILL NOT LONG TOLERATE any symbol that truly exalts God. Christmas will be reduced to “Winter Holiday” simply to extract the wonderful name that will one day make every knee bow. The fight to win a culture can only be won by a Christian community that will take on personal choices to live up to the standards of the Word. Note that although the young people were given names of pagan gods of Babylon their lifestyle choices demonstrated their Hebrew names.

Let me say it clearly to every believer: The Supreme Court doesn’t truly harm Christianity as much as our public failure to live the standard of God’s Word as believers. Their decisions may seem sweeping and vast, but they come on top of years of Christian lifestyle compromises that muted our voice and blunted our message. Our churches speak of marriages, but many of our own don’t stay committed to them. We speak of Biblical education for our young, but cannot find enough people with time to be a part of a program where we could help teach them. The world won’t be radically impacted by comfortable Christians – only committed ones who make comfort a secondary issue. Make your testimony one that speaks to the true legacy of what is important to you. Expend yourself in things that God lays upon your heart!

Oscar Wilde was quoted years ago as saying: “If you don’t get everything you want, think of the things you don’t get that you don’t want!” Look around you, and collect knowledge of the expectations, arguments and lifestyles – but keep living your call.

Rule #3: Keep your true life goal at the center of your decision making.

Make up your mind that you will stand for God with a positive voice as He enables you and then attempt to work in the system to accomplish the task (1:8).

Daniel 1:8 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought [permission] from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.

Here is the tough part of the line. Daniel couldn’t do all that was being asked of him – so he needed to find a creative and sensitive way to object, without being belligerent.

The Missionary Hudson Taylor demonstrated faith and inner calm in a challenging situation in 1853, when young Hudson Taylor was making his first voyage to China. His ship was delayed near New Guinea because the winds had stopped. A rapid current was carrying the ship toward some reefs and the situation was becoming dangerous. Even the sailors using a longboat could not row the vessel out of the current. “We have done everything that can be done,” said the captain to Taylor. But Taylor replied, “No, there is one thing we have not done yet.” There were three other believers on the ship, and Taylor suggested that each retire to his own cabin and pray for a breeze. They did, and while he was at prayer, Taylor received confidence from God that the desperately needed wind would be sent. He went up on deck and suggested to the first officer, an unbeliever, that he let down the mainsail because a breeze was on its way. The man refused, but then they saw the corner of the sail begin to stir. The breeze had come! They let down the sail and in a short time were on their way! (A-Z Illustrations).

In both of those cases – that of Taylor and of Daniel – what was the secret to success? It was not simply prayer, though that was included. It was not simply obedience, though that was included. In each case, the men recognized their calling, and followed choices inside of that calling. Taylor’s wind came after Taylor sought God (as the Bible instructed) and got assurance. Daniel’s deferment came after he committed to do what God said in his Word. Both knew their call would only be significantly fulfilled by commitment – no matter what the outcome. Compromise, when it comes to obedience to God’s Word, is settling for less than our call. Keep your life goal – to honor God with your days – at the center of your thinking when making even small life choices.

Rule #4: Don’t get self-centered and believe you can create success alone.

Remember, we serve God, not our own ability to manipulate situations. When we have what appears to be a “success”, we must humbly remember it is God who gave it to us. (1:9). Our life is more than what we can accomplish – it is what God can do through us when we yield our members to Him. That is the excitement of following God! I can do “all things” through Him Who strengthens me. Look at Daniel 1:9:

Daniel 1:9 Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials,

Don’t miss that Daniel wasn’t arrogant, nor did he “command God” to do anything. He is God in Heaven, and I am a man on earth – let my words be few… as Solomon long ago reminded. Later in this journal of God’s work, Dan will face a lion’s den. His friends will face a furnace of fire. Their delivery was not certain. The point of our lives is not to obey for personal benefit – that is cloaked religious selfishness. Rather it is to make much of Jesus – and to honor our King! Our sacrifice is but a small thing if it will allow those who follow our time see His glory.

Self-centered Christianity sold well in the last thirty years. “Give a dollar so you can get ten” thinking was never about worship at its core. The favor Daniel received was by God’s hand – but the opposite could have happened – and God would still be God. With every successful outreach, let us recall God’s good hand; with every painful setback let us seek God’s path of direction. In nothing become self-centered – that is the antithesis of Christianity. He is the story, I am the messenger. He is the Lord, and I am His servant…period.

Rule #5: Be sympathetic to the other side without giving in on truth.

Daniel knew how to listen with understanding to the fears of the ungodly around him (1:10). He tried his best to meet them half way and still not compromise God’s call (1:11-16). What did it hurt to try to live truth in an inoffensive way?

Daniel 1:10 and the commander of the officials said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink; for why should he see your faces looking more haggard than the youths who are your own age? Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king.” 11 But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 “Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14 So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food. 16 So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables.

Some would criticize Dan for “compromising faith” because he wasn’t belligerent and sarcastic in his commentary. They truly believe that any attempt to acknowledge what others are concerned about is a sign of weakness. Think for a moment: is the strength of our argument for God IN the argument itself? I believe not. I believe it is found in seeking God. Our gentle reasonableness should not be read as weakness – but as confidence that from prayer and God’s conviction in the hardest of hearts will come fruitful conversions where there would otherwise be none. No one is argued into the Kingdom of God – they are converted from within through prayer and God’s Spirit pricking their heart. Sarcasm and argument may strengthen the soul of the discouraged believers, but prayer and God’s conviction is what saves the unbeliever.

Let me ask you to do something: Argue less and pray more. Wrestle less with the world in articles and news, and wrestle more for them on your knees. Don’t panic over evil, fight back in Heavenly places. Don’t feel the need to correct the world, just encourage, pray and look for an opportunity to show love to them. Doors will open that never have before. Stop the whining over lost men acting like lost men, and start the winning of souls by the power of the Cross. The chief symbol of our faith was once a marker to the Roman world of their victory over Christ – a Cross. What does that tell you of our message? In our weakness, He will be shown unstoppably strong. Stop being defensive and start being sympathetic to the plight of a dying world – they cannot help but spread death, all the while fearing it.

Rule #6: Choose time with positive people and doing positive things.

Look also at Daniel’s companions. They were not alone, but together. They were learners, positively engaged and delightfully partnered with one another. People that are engaged in growth and life are invigorating and get better opportunities to be used of God (1:17-19).

Daniel 1:17 As for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every [branch of] literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all [kinds of] visions and dreams. 18 Then at the end of the days which the king had specified for presenting them, the commander of the officials presented them before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s personal service.

Keep people, words and activities that help you stay up in your sight! Learn new things this year! I love that simple saying in Life’s Little Instruction Book: “Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures”. (H. Jackson Brown, Jr.). It is the small-mindedness of Christians that really grates against my soul. Can we speak of other things besides politics and culture wars? Is not the universe filled with God’s fingerprints?

Don’t worry, we will all get it wrong from time to time. That is why I like to recall the simple words of Oswald Avery: “Whenever you fall, pick something up.” Obviously I am speaking of mistakes, not overlooking serious moral failures in ourselves. At the same time, just choose to be together with other believers. The world will get cold, but huddling can keep us warm. In our recharged warmth – we will be more ready to show the lost a way to the warmth. Cold, worn, dispirited believers bring no one to Christ, but usher many away from Him.

Rule #7: Work out your giftedness and stay at your post for God (1:20-21).

The end of the chapter mentions the tenure of Dan. He was taken in 606, but stayed in the work until 537 – nearly 70 years later! He had God’s hand in his life, but throughout the story he learned to wait until God opened a door. Daniel 1 records:

Daniel 1:20 As for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians [and] conjurers who [were] in all his realm. 21 And Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the king.

Grabbing a headline and gaining a post are one thing – following through for seventy long years is yet another! Daniel watched a lot of bad legislation roll through during his tenure. He lived in a world of politics – a tough world in any age to be a decent man. He faced deceptions from enemies that fronted for the spiritual enemy – and we will watch how he navigated each challenge. Yet, he remained positive in the journey. He did it by refusing to be deceived with the others of his time.

Don’t let the current circumstances of life convince you of the great deceptions of the enemy of your soul.

He will try to deceive you about his strength. In you, beloved follower of Jesus, is One greater than he who fluffs and puffs in this world.

He will try to discourage you by confusion. For you, life events may hang like loose threads below a tapestry – but design is not discovered on this side of the cloth.

He will try to divert you with troubles. Before you, may be problems insurmountable for a time – but you were made for eternity.

He will try to dishearten you with memories. Behind you, then call of old defeats may beckon to slow your progress – but your best days are ahead in the Father’s house.

Since he is not greater, since your troubles last for but a season, since what is unknown now will become clear one day in the time after time, and since our Father has the power to forgive wholly and forget completely – we must not allow the deception of the enemy to deter us from serving our King with an encouraged heart. (RS)

Because life is filled with negative people and situations does not mean the believer should be negative.