Christianity’s Image Problem!

-It Seemed Boring!

It seemed to me that Christianity had an image problem, back in the 70’s, when I came to faith as a Junior High Boy. Here’s what I mean—if you decided to trust Jesus, as your Savior, you’d get heaven when your life ended HERE; but, the rest of your life HERE would be boring and blasé. But, for me, the “tradeoff” certainly seemed worth it; so, I asked Jesus to be my Savior. I’ll take the 80 years of blasé; but, eternity in heaven vs. 80 years of fun & happiness; but, eternity in hell at the end! But, that didn’t “sell” real well with my friends! I had a difficult time convincing them that the tradeoff was worth it.

-Enduring The Christian Life!

I think many believers still suffer with some sever misconceptions about the “Christian life”, don’t you? It’s been my observation that many believers just ENDURE the Christian life! Secretly, they still pine for the pleasures & happiness they think the world enjoys. In their hearts, they’re earthly hedonists! Like the children of Israel, during the Exodus, still looking back with longing for the old life they left behind in Egypt. Somehow, we’ve come to this erroneous conclusion that life’s just not going to be fun or happy as a Christian; but, we put up with it because…. Well, we get heaven at the END!

-The Most Happiness Possible!

But, there’s a great text of Scripture that debunks the notion that the life that follows Christ & adheres to the Scriptures is a boring life. In fact, what this Psalm says is quite the opposite. The writer sets the record straight—we don’t just ENDURE the Christian life, putting in our time here, until we get to heaven & hangout with Jesus for ever and ever! No! This Psalm tells us that it’s the life that submits to God & His Word that provides us with the greatest fulfillment & the most happiness possible! This is a message that the Church desperately needs! You need this message! I need this message! Happiness & prosperity, in this life & the next, only follows the God-centered life. Here’s how I’d summarize the Psalmist’s big idea—We overcome the pleasures of the world by taking greater pleasure in the Word of God! A significant part of your spiritual growth involves the things in which you find pleasure & happiness! Don’t be surprised that God is concerned with your happiness!

-Here’s A Happy Man!

Listen to what He says: “1How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment, and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” (Psalm 1) For some believers, it’s a debate over “JOY” & “HAPPINESS”! JOY is a fruit of the Spirit, they say; and, that’s what we should concern ourselves with! Not HAPPINESS! But, read that text again—it makes me HAPPY!

 

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Daniel: Responding To Spiritual Warfare!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-Peeling Back The Curtain!

On rare occasions God pulls back the curtain that divides the “seen” from the “unseen”! This post is about spiritual warfare; and, specifically how the prophet Daniel responded to it! If you’re unaware of how prayer works, you might become discouraged with the “turn around time.” You might talk to God about something; and, because you don’t get an answer immediately, you might conclude that He’s not listening to you! That would be a mistake on your part!

-Unseen Spiritual Forces!

In the 10th chapter of Daniel’s book, in the Bible, we’re introduced to the concept that there are forces at work that we’re unable to see because they are “spiritual”! Here’s what the Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Ephesus about these “spiritual” forces: “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12). There are spiritual forces of evil at work in the “heavens”; but, we can’t see them because they are spiritual, not flesh! So, if we’re aware that there is a battle going on behind that “curtain” that divides our world from the spiritual world, we’ll adjust our focus! Again, the Apostle Paul said, “So we do not focus on what is seen; but, on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

-Don’t Focus On What You See!

So, a Biblical response to life’s struggles is to focus not on the seen; but, the unseen! That’s how Daniel responded! Our challenge is to let God’s Spirit pull back that curtain & give you a glimpse—through the Scriptures—into the reality of the spirit world! And, the reality that the spirit world impacts our world! That there is a spiritual warfare behind all of life’s struggles! And, Daniel shows us some things about this spirit world; and, how we ought to respond! Just pick up your Bible; and, read the 10th chapter of Daniel. Pay close attention to the words the angel speaks to Daniel in v.12.  He tells him that God heard his prayers from the very beginning; and, he was the answer!

-Your Prayers Were Heard!

Don’t be afraid, Daniel,” he said to me, “for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your prayers were heard. I have come because of your prayers.” (v.12)  Though time had passed—perhaps 3 full weeks (v.12)—God actually HEARD Daniel’s prayer from the FIRST DAY he had begun to pray! In v.11 the angel told Daniel, “…I have been sent to you…”; and, v.12 “…I have come BECAUSE of YOUR PRAYERS…” I hope that encourages you! It does me! It might seem as though your prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling! That’s what the enemy wants you to believe! Don’t listen to his lies! God hears our prayers the moment they’re formed in our heart & He’s sending help! But, as we’ll see, there are reasons the “answers” to our prayers may be delayed! Find out next time!

 

Daniel: Giving Up Your Life For Others

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-The Greatest Commandment!

One of the key lessons the Prophet Daniel shows us is how to give up our life for others. When asked which commandment was the greatest, Jesus responded, “The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and, with all your might.” Then He said, “And, the 2nd is like unto it—Love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). In other words, the 2nd is only surpassed, in importance, by the 1st. Or, understood, in context, the 2nd comes out of obedience to the 1st. Jesus was saying that when we truly grow in love for God, we can’t help but grow in love for our fellow man!

-Help Others Reconcile With God!

We can give up our life for others because our God has given up His life for us! That’s how we help others become reconciled with God—we LOVE them! We deny self! We even die to self! Daniel lived that kind of life! Even when facing the prospect of death, he persistently shared the truth & incarnated that truth in the way he lived. I’m fairly confident that Daniel never would have scripted his life the way God did—to be torn away from your family & your homeland; and, exiled to a foreign land to serve the very King that ruined your happy home life! But, his yieldedness to a Sovereign God made for quite an exciting life & gave him ample opportunities to offer praise to God!

-Why Are We So Whiny?

We American Christians, unfortunately, have a reputation for being kind of whiny about things! God help us see trouble & pain as opportunities for God to do miraculous things so He can receive the praise He so richly deserves! When God stepped in & miraculously delivered Daniel from the lions den, King Darius rejoiced and said: “I issue a decree that in all my royal dominion, people must tremble in fear before the God of Daniel: For He is the living God, & He endures forever;  His kingdom will never be destroyed, & His dominion has no end.  He rescues & delivers; He performs signs & wonders in the heavens & on the earth, for He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:26-28) Daniel could be used, by God, because he willingly gave up his life for others.  He served people!

-What A Legacy!

How would you like to be the one who led an Adolph Hitler or a Saddam Hussein to become a follower of Jesus? Sound impossible? That’s probably the equivalent of Daniel influencing Nebuchadnezzar & Darius to the faith! These were bad guys! History records that the kings of Babylon & the Medo-Persian empires were some of the most ruthless ever to walk the earth! But, it seems pretty clear, from Scripture, they’ll both be gathered around the throne of God—with the rest of us—worshipping & praising God for all eternity! Because Daniel saw God’s “big picture” & submitted to God’s plan for his life, he became a disciple maker of Kings! What a legacy Daniel has left us! In one of the most spiritually hostile environments in the history of the world, Daniel survived & thrived in his faith! Will you, like Daniel, trust God with all of your life?

 

Daniel: Trust God With Your Life!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

-When Crime Is Not A Sin!

Let me start this post by making another interesting point about God’s prophet, Daniel—He purposely committed a “crime” against a human government so he would not be guilty of committing a “sin” against God!  The scene unfolds in chapter 6, of Daniel’s book, as the enemies of Daniel deceive King Darius into signing “…an edict that for 30 days, anyone who petitions any god or man except you, the king, will be thrown into the lions’ den” (v.7).  An agreement that, if followed , would force Daniel to commit the sin of idolatry against his God.  Something he would not do! So, when he was observed praying to his God the trap was set & he was arrested for treason against his King & sentenced to death, a pit full of hungry lions to be his executioners! So, he purposely & knowingly committed a “crime” against a human government to avoid committing a “sin” against his God!

-Familiar Territory!

This was familiar territory for Daniel! Much earlier, in his life, he had observed how his 3 friends—Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—had made a similar decision when faced with their choice to obey God or man (see chapter 2). Instead of lions, they faced the prospect of death in a fiery furnace! But, Daniel noted that God delivered them! God always delivers—whether by a miracle; or, by death—but, He always delivers! When King Darius, who was NOT Daniel’s enemy, realized that he had been duped, he worked hard to deliver Daniel from certain death; but, he could not (v.14). The most powerful man, in the world, couldn’t deliver him from “…the law of the Medes & the Persians, that changes not…”

-The Weakness Of Man!

What a picture of the weakness of man! Even the most powerful, of men, was unable to reverse the inevitable! Don’t trust in man! Don’t trust in yourself! Trust God! Oh, how we need to learn that, don’t we? When Daniel submitted to God’s Sovereign plans, God was able to use his life circumstances to build another person’s faith! Daniel focused on God’s “big picture.” Without God’s help, we will always focus on our circumstances!

-Take Off Those Glasses!

We tend to see all our pain & suffering through the lens of our own self-centered glasses! We need the Holy Spirit’s help to remove the glasses of self! To deny self! Daniel saw God use the trouble in his life as a testimony that led first, to King Nebuchadnezzar’s faith (ch.4); and, now brought King Darius to faith! “Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting. No diversions were brought to him, and he could not sleep. At the first light of dawn the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he reached the den, he cried out in anguish to Daniel. “Daniel, servant of the living God,” the king said, “has your God whom you serve continually been able to rescue you from the lions?”  Even when facing the prospect of death, Daniel remained influential in the King’s life! He persistently incarnated God’s truth in the way he lived!

 

 

Daniel: Standing Against Evil!

-Evil Always Gives You A 2nd Chance!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

Have you ever noticed how evil will always give you a 2nd chance to do evil? If you miss the first invitation, there’ll always be a follow-up! That’s what Daniel’s 3 friends—Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah—observed after they failed to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold image as he had commanded them to do (Daniel chapter 3). “Ya know boys,” I imagine the King saying, “I’m thinking you just must not have heard me! When the music starts, all you have to do is follow the crowd! Just bow down & worship my gold image & all’s cool!

-He Picked On The Wrong Deity!

And, then he lays down the gauntlet: “…and who is that God who can rescue you from my power?” Oops! You just picked on the wrong deity, Nebuchadnezzar! Don’t ever draw a line in the sand & dare Yahweh to cross it! But, that’s what he did! He bragged that no God could deliver them from his hand! I love how they stood up to evil—they “…replied to the King, ‘Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the King. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as King to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” They had faith in God’s ability to deliver them—that God was ABLE!

-Don’t Make Promises For God He Doesn’t Make!

But, even if He, according to His Sovereign plan, didn’t deliver them, they would not bow to his image! There’s a great application to take from their example—we need to be careful not to put words in God’s mouth! Don’t make claims for God on His behalf! We may think that God has to respond in a certain way; but, our knowledge is finite and limited! His ways are higher than our ways! Don’t make promises for God that He doesn’t make! We can’t presume, on Him, about how our story ends! God doesn’t always deliver the way we “think” He ought to! While He brought these 3 through the fiery furnace unharmed, He may not do the same for us! We don’t know! We just know that He’s ABLE! Our response is to take a stand against evil no matter the personal cost! “When ungodly men make ungodly laws, godly men disobey them!”

-This Was Real: It Was Life Or Death!

One of the biggest challenges, to preaching this text, is overcoming some of your childhood perceptions. This isn’t a “fairytale” or a “myth”—Daniel & his 3 friends were real people who loved God! They were people just like you & me trying to live out the difficulties of life by faith in God. And, their story—like our story—put them in a place where they had to make a tough decision! And, like they experienced, when we obey God rather than man, we’ll be judged, by the world, as insubordinate & NOT a “team player.” This 3rd chapter of Daniel points out that “…some (of the King’s counselors) took the occasion to come forward & maliciously accuse the Jews…” of ignoring the King! Nothing could be further from the truth! They had proven their loyalty to the King! Be prepared to pay a price if you obey God over man!

 

 

Daniel: Questioning Civil Disobedience!

-There Is A Law Above Our Laws!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

I have a huge curiosity for all things Adolf Hitler & WWII Germany—perhaps, in part, because I’m of German descent; but, mostly, I think, because I find it incredulous how an entire nation could be duped by such an ungodly man! How could they ever go along with a plan to round up a certain people group & have them exterminated as Hitler did some 6 million Jews; not, to mention the thousands of non-Jewish German citizens that he killed because they wouldn’t go along with his plan? When WWII ended, in 1945, a series of military tribunals were held by the Allied forces, in Nuremberg, Germany, to prosecute the prominent leaders of Nazi Germany who carried out or participated in the Holocaust & other war crimes. Painted as patriots,  by their attorneys, their defense was that they were only carrying out the direct orders of their government; and, therefore could not be held responsible for their actions. But, one of the judges dismissed their argument with one simple question: “But, gentlemen,” he asked, “Is there not a law above our laws?

-We Ought To Obey God!

While Scripture gives us the general principle that, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities…” (Rom 13:1,2);  the higher, Biblical principle is this: “When ungodly men make ungodly laws, godly men disobey them!” The Apostle Peter taught the general principle to “…submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…” (1 Pet 2:13-15); but, he also said, “…we must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29).  It’s in that kind of quagmire that Daniel’s 3 friends found themselves in chapter 3 of Daniel’s story! King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, from chapter 2, becomes a “nightmare” for Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah as he builds a 90’ tall gold statue, of himself, and demands that everyone bow down and worship it—“…when you hear the music…you are to fall down & worship the gold statue…” (ch. 3:5) This was a problem! They had been raised in good Jewish homes & knew the commandments Yahweh had given to Moses in Exodus chapter 20: “I am the LORD your God; do not have any other gods besides me…”

-It Was Us Against The World!

They knew the law: “…do not make an idol for yourself,” it continued, “you must not bow down to them or worship them…” (Exodus 20). So, here they were between the proverbial “Rock & A Hard Place”—obey the King & face God’s judgment or obey God & face the King’s fiery furnace! Let me try & paint the picture for you as you follow the narrative in Daniel chapter 3. There are probably thousands upon thousands of people, representing all the nations that Babylon had subdued, waiting for the sound of the music! They hear it & all the thousands upon thousands bow down & worship the King’s gold image….. EXCEPT 3 MEN! They knew their insubordination wouldn’t go unnoticed; and, it didn’t! But, the fear of God outweighed their fear of man: “When ungodly men make ungodly laws, godly men disobey them!

 

Daniel: Responding To A Crisis Of Faith

-Threatened By Impossible Demands!

(NOTE: This Continues A Series Of Posts On Daniel’s Life)

Powerful individuals often demand the seemingly impossible from their subjects! So, it wasn’t really surprising that Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar would dream a dream and insist that his counselors tell him WHAT he dreamed, in addition to an accurate INTERPRETATION! His threat—to kill them if they didn’t come through—was very real. As the story unfolds—in Daniel ch.2—we’re invited into Daniel’s life, to see his response to a crisis of faith! His life was threatened, by the king’s impossible demands, as well! Would his actions match up with what he said he believed? Or, would he fall completely apart like the rest of the king’s advisory team? Daniel shows us how to respond to an impossible situation—that’s the big idea! That’s the bottom line here in our story.

-Respond With Tact & Discretion

First, the text, of Scripture, says that he responds with tact and discretion (v.14).  Tact is “a keen sense of what to say or do without being offensive; the skill of dealing with difficult or delicate situations.” And, this is about as delicate as it gets! Arioch, the king’s captain, is at your front door & he’s there to haul you away to be executed! What would you do? Run, panic, demand your rights? Chuck Swindoll has noted that “some Christians think the only sensible response to unjust secular authority is brash rebellion.” But, Daniel shows us another way! His confidence in God’s Sovereign control, of the situation, allowed him to act with tact; and, with discretion. Discretion is “that quality of being wise & careful in the way someone acts or speaks.”  He acts, with discretion, by asking clarifying questions! And, he was rewarded with an audience before the king (v.16).

-Honor The Authority

He honored the king’s authority & asked for time to satisfy the king’s demands. Many, in the Western church, would do well to follow Daniel’s example; and, honor the governing authority. He stood before a more wicked ungodly leader than any American president we’ve ever disagreed with; and, Daniel doesn’t use slanderous campaign tactics! He doesn’t rail on him for being unfair! He shows tact & discretion; and, that gains him an audience and respect from the king!

-God’s End Game

We must never forget that God is in the details! He removed Israel from the land; and, He raised up wicked King Nebuchadnezzar to judge them! But, that wasn’t God’s end game! He planned to humble that wicked king and bring him to faith; and, God would use his budding relationship with Daniel to accomplish that. But, only because Daniel honored the king & used wisdom, tact & discretion; and, the king took notice—“he found him ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom” (1:21).  May God help us to follow Daniel’s example when facing a crisis of faith! Give us Holy Spirit “filters” for our mouths! Give us wisdom, tact & discretion NOT to say everything that enters our mind! Amen!