Sermon May 16, 2004 : Staying firm - Against the cultural mainstream (Daniel 1:8)
“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way. Now God, caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel. But the official told Daniel “I am afraid of my lord, my king, who has assign your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worst than the other young men your age? The king would them have my head because of you”.
Then Daniel said to the guard whom the chief official had pointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “please test your servants for ten days, give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat royal food and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.”
So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days, and at the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the other young men who ate the royal food.”
Brothers, I want to share today about one of the most exemplary characters in the old testament and that’s the prophet Daniel. Daniel represents some of the most beautiful values and principles of the scripture, he is an example for us in this season which we live. The image of Daniel came to me as I considered the very unique situation we are living here in the State of Massachusetts.
As we see in this graphic illustration of what is happening in the State of Massachusetts legalizing homosexual marriage, just how far this nation has come from it’s biblical origins.
Yesterday I was speaking to a reporter over the phone, who wanted to know our thoughts on the subject, and I tried to make it very clear to him that we haven’t just isolated this as one sin just to focus on this above all others. But rather scripture seems to measure this particular sin as a barometer of just how far a culture has separated itself from God’s patterns and purposes.
If someone had told me five years ago that we would come to this point here in the State of Massachusetts, even knowing the heart of humanity I would have doubted that would happen. And yet today we see that as a reality.
The prophet Daniel lived in a context that is similar to our own. He was a young man who feared God and yet he served in a society that had completely revealed against divine precepts.
Babylon practiced all the sins that you could find under the sun. Babylon is seen throughout the Bible as the fountain of many types of abominations, occultism and astrology, worshiping pagan gods, oppressing other nations and a general separating from the principles of God. And Daniel was brought to live right in that context. So he illustrates for us what it is to live our Christian principles while inserted in a very pagan context. So for us the figure of Daniel is an important example in this stage in our history. Also so that we would realize that what we are living is nothing so strange and different. Throughout history people of God have been required to live in societies that were against Godly principles.
What Scriptures says, again and again, is: “if we live faithful to Godly principles we will come out victorious”. So today we’ll come out not just encouraged in our faith, but also encouraged to go forward with an optimistic perspective.
What type of man was Daniel? He was man, first of all, of integrity. Integrity in the sense that he remained faithful to his values no matter what the situation he faced.
We know that in the story of Daniel and the Lions Den, when he was required to do homage to the king he said “I will not worship a human being, I’m a man of God”.
In this particular case that we are reading about he was required to eat foods that perhaps had been offered to a pagan god, and he chose to remain consecrated to God and not participate in those meals. That is integrity, remaining faithful to our principles no matter what the context we face. And if, for whatever reason, we separate from those principles and have some sort of failure what we do is we come back and realign ourselves with God’s purposes rather than disguise it and keep going.
In another interview, someone was asking me if we somehow thought we were better than the people who lived the kind of life style we are dealing with. I told him, Christians realize that we are all in need of the Grace of God. The difference is that when we find weaknesses or failings in ourselves, instead of white washing it, we call it what it is and seek growth and change in Christ.
Humanity becomes addicted to certain sins and therefore tries to name it something different or somehow change it so that it is just a file. Integrity means we stick to a certain standard no matter what the circumstances are. Daniel was a man of integrity and gives us lessons about that.
The second thing is Daniel was willing to take postures that were not popular. In this case when Daniel and his friends decided “we are not going to eat the food of the king”. Daniel ran the risk of being accused of not being a team player. He is too individualistic, he thinks he is better than everybody else, he is questioning our values.
When we remember that he was being trained for a very high position in the Babylonian government and he ran the risk of losing all what he had worked for in terms of his career, by being a rebellious soldier in that army he ran the risk of being pointed out as a bad egg, as somebody who was not going along with the standards. But Daniel stayed firm because he knew his understanding of the Law of God required him to do so. And even if he wasn’t popular he still stuck by his God.
In this time we live in, my brothers and sisters, we need to take positions that are not popular. And we could become like a thorn in the side for the sensibility of this modern society. And I need to point out that we are in very good company, Jesus was the first of all to be a bothersome to the culture he lived in, that was one of the reasons he was executed.
And you in your schools especially in university or high school, or perhaps you work in a social agency, as a teacher, or university professor, or maybe a doctor, maybe you are not in agreement with abortion or some other practice going on in your facility. You have to ask yourself the question: am I going to go with the flow or stand firm in what God has taught me?
I want to applaud the six Justices of the Peace, including one of our own members who decided to lose their position in Justice of the Peace, rather than go along with an unjust law.
The Bible says “resist the devil and he will flee from you”. What the Church has always done is to take its position and stay firm until the evil day passes, that’s what the Bible says and that’s what we will do.
Are you willing to suffer for Christ in your job or some other situation? High school student or College student, are you willing to sit at a table alone because the other students look down on you because of the position you have about moral issues?.
Daniel stood firm in an unpopular position, believing the Word that says: “do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but rather be transformed by the renewal of your minds.” Daniel assumed positions that were not popular.
And at the risk of lingering too long on this point I do want to mention something else. Unless we are willing to maintain unpopular positions we run a danger because the power of persuasion of the evil one is very strong in this age we are living in.
Humanity has more resources at its disposition to affirm itself in a sinful perverse attitude since ever before in history. We just have to look at the resources of the means of mass communication. We only have to consider the techniques that can be used in film making or the colors in the movies or the ways to persuade or manipulate people through the means of mass communication to change a moral belief in a whole society.
Unless we are willing to maintain unpopular positions we run the risk of falling into the many traps of persuasion that others in previous generations have fallen into.
This week I was helping my daughter with a project on the Hitler Youth during the time of the nazi Germany. If we just look at how the whole nation of Germany during that time, was hypnotized by the power of this demonized leader Adolph Hitler, and a supposedly civilized nation was brought to commit horrible atrocities that sixty years later all of us, including Germans themselves, wonder how could we have ever let this happen. And we can ask how, one of the most sophisticated and refined cultures in the world, could be brought to do such hideous atrocities as experimenting on human flesh, and committing the crimes against humanity that were done.
We can look at the atrocities committed in the Spanish Inquisition, committed in the name of Christ Himself. When we look at the nation of Japan all around the years of The Second World War and how the whole nation was caught up in the movement, we see that the human mind is one of the most malleable and easily formed consistencies that there is.
Any society, no matter how sophisticated or educated could adopt any perspective given the right influences applied to them. And unless we resist these influences and persuasions we will become desensitized to things that should shock us. Because our tendency naturally will be to seek comfort.
The need for belonging is one of the strongest drives in the human psyche, we will seek to avoid isolation at all costs. And, little by little, our tendency will be to go with the flow, and to let our defenses go down. And if we are not careful, we will be brought to question the very Word of God as so many other Evangelicals are led to do.
And Daniel is a good example of staying firm, even in unpopular positions because the perspective of the enemy can become very popular all around that.
Another thing is that Daniel was willing to take great risks. He was willing to sacrifice important things for himself. He was willing to sacrifice relationships that he loved and were important for him. When the King Nebuchadnezzar, who had put him in the position which he was in, required him to adore his image, Daniel said: "My king, I cannot do so". Daniel said, "God is able to deliver me from the fiery furnace, but if he doesn't, too bad. If I have to sacrifice my relationship with you, I am sorry, but I’ll have to do that. We see that Daniel was even willing to sacrifice his career for the values of The Kingdom of God. He was even willing to sacrifice his very life in the Lions’ Den and in The Oven.
Are we willing to sacrifice great things for the Lord? Are you willing to lose your life, your job for the Lord? Are you willing to lose a romantic relationship for the Lord? Are you willing to sacrifice your comfort and your dreams of success for the values of The Kingdom of God? Because with the passing of time, this will become less theory and more of a reality for the people of God. Daniel is an example for us to follow.
Other reasons why we see the comparisons with Daniel, we see that Daniel lived in a whole culture that was contrary to the values of The Kingdom of God and that the consequences of resisting that culture were serious. Daniel was under tremendous pressure to conform to the culture round him.
And I have just something to say to the youth that are among us today, that the homosexual movement is convinced that they will have victory, they will have success in convincing the younger generation in their perspective. They've done polls and learned that 60% of the youth in our society, including Christian youth, believe that that is an acceptable life style, while 60% of the adults poll believe that homosexuality was not of God. They think that in just a few years, 10 or 15 years, when old timers have passed away, that then the youth are going to be in charge and it's going to be a done deal.
Youth, I challenge you to stand to say that you will remain firm, no matter what happens in the society.
What helped Daniel to preserve that kind of integrity?
What we see here is that Daniel determined in his heart, he determined to honor God and to remain to guard himself pure. The Bible says that Daniel proposed, he determined in his heart. It is talking about a deliberate previous decision that he made. It says Daniel weighted the pros and cons and he reflected over de consequences of the path of action he was going to take. He evaluated "why should I eat?" or, "why should I perhaps not eat the king's food?" He measured the consequences. And a he made a moral, spiritual and emotional decision saying "I will not eat".
Brothers and sisters, we need to make a previous decision, determination. We have to stop living the Christian life by inertia. God abhors a generic religiosity. It’s time to decide if we believe or we don’t.
It’s time to adopt a radical posture with The Kingdom of God. It’s time to say with Esther "If I perish, I perish". It’s time to decide how we will live the Christian life. Maybe you are just visiting the Church, or maybe you’ve been here for years but you are still kind of indecisive about many things. And it’s time to come to a point of crisis and say "I'm going to live the Christian life at full blast. I'm going to honor God no matter what. I'm going to resist the pressures of the world. I'm going to honor the Lord with my life, and live a life of excellency in the spirit.”
Because if you let the world define your moral perspectives, they will do it unless you previously dedicate who you are, what you believe to The Lord.
Youth, if you define yourself, the world will define you. Christian, if you don't decide what the vision is that you will carry in life, the world will give you a vision to follow. We need to make a decision and then to go forward firmly following the vision and principles we have.
Number two, Daniel understood and knew the will of God. To know that eating that food would have been against the Word of God, he already understood the Scriptures. He knew that the Scriptures of that time prohibited eating food offered to idols. If he didn’t know the Scriptures then he would have been brought along with his context around him.
We need to know the Word of God. There are people, who call themselves Christians, who are preaching the doctrine of demons. There are respectable, impressive people who will teach doctrines that go directly against the Word of God, and unless we take time to study the Word for ourselves, unless we let ourselves become saturated by the spirit of the Bible, unless the world view of Scripture doesn't fill every pore of our being, so that you can instinctively recognize what is and isn’t of God, you wont be able to resist the subtle schemes of the enemy to persuade and change your perspective.
The time is coming when Christians need to discern the will of God, we could say, by ear rather than by logical analyses, to say that we are so saturated in the scripture that we have an intuitive sense of how to navigate the intricacies and subtleties of the demonic deceptions in our generation. That is why we need to know the Word of God, study the Word of God, know the Word of God
Number three, Daniel trusted in the faithfulness of his God. He trusted the promises of his Lord. He took risks and he put God to the test in the right way. The eunuch, who was his supervisor said "if this kid doesn't eat like the others, and then he looks weaker, they are going to cut my head off for him." Daniel accepted the challenge, he said: "put us to the test, let us eat the food we want and you’ll see what we look like after ten days".
Daniel, again and again was willing to take risks, to put himself on the line, and trust that God would make up for his own deficiencies and come through in the cut.
Brothers and sisters , this one of the most important lessons of the scripture. Are we willing, again and again, to put ourselves at disadvantage in our life to honor God?
When you come home from work, and it’s four in the afternoon and it’s already dark in the winter, rain and sleepy, you are tired on a Wednesday afternoon. And maybe your Church is calling you to come together to pray on a mid week service. and you are thinking, “tomorrow I have to get up at six or seven in the morning and go back into this cold again”. There is a decision to be made in that moment. We need to ask ourselves the question, do I believe that God is able to make up for the lost sleep and the lost energy so that I have the energy I need to face the day tomorrow?.
You know what sometimes guides me to do things that are not in my job description, is the example of people like Daniel, that if I invest, if I give myself above and beyond what is necessary, God will make up the difference will give me the desires of my heart.
When you give that 10% you give that tithe, then you say: “even though times are tight and I don't have much money, I'm going to give that tithe and trust that God is going to make up the difference in my life”.
When you’ve got to make a decision, maybe to leave that boy friend or girl friend that you know doesn’t please God the way that person is or lives, and you say: "but, what if I end up being alone”, making the decision, honoring God rather than going with meeting the need right before you. And you trust that God is faithful to provide for me.
We are not talking about irrelevant poetry here, but we are talking about the nuts and balls of the Christian life every day. It’s the principle that says: “if I put myself in deficit God is able to make up the difference and bless me abundantly. If I seek the Kingdom of God, He is faithful to add all things on to me”. That is the principle of taking great risks, of putting God to the test in our life and seeing what he does.
And another thing important to say that Daniel did is that he associated with others who had the same commitment. He sought the affirmation that comes from joining together with like minded believers. He had other brothers and friends who build each other up because they made the same commitment. That’s the principle behind why we are here as a Church. For us to stay faithful to the values of the Kingdom of God, we got to stick together.
One coal on its own, cools off quickly. But when burning charcoals and coals come together the heat is intense. United, sticking together we can stay faithful to the principles of the Kingdom of God in our society. We need one another. We need the Church of Jesus Christ.
You can't stay faithful to the Lord, not in our own places, not as a lone ranger who gets your feeding from a television program while you eat a bowl of cereal. You need the warmth and the stimulation and the backing of your brothers. Continue seeking the Lord in the context of a spiritual community.
Look for a couple of like minded friends, a couple of guys or women if you are a woman, to be those trench buddies to help you in the battle. Stay tight with the Body of Christ. It will give you encouragement in the midst of the trial. And that doesn't mean that we separate ourselves from the world and don't have any contact. We need to be the salt of the earth, and salt needs to be sprinkled in the food. That is to say that our most intimate friendships, the people we trust, that we really get tight with are those that share the values of the Kingdom of God. The context in which we derive our comfort and support, should be a context which supports the values of the Kingdom of God.
Let us not stop coming together and worshipping. Daniel is an example for us in these days. He took risks, he put God to the test. He trusted in the faithfulness of God. He sought others who would back him up in his faith. He wasn't afraid of taking unpopular positions And he determined in his heart to be faithful to the Lord. If you want to make that determination in your heart today, to live at that level of excellence. Take some time, measure the cost, count the cost.
We are going to ask God’s forgiveness for our indifference and our mediocrity. And we determine to live a life of firmness and excellency in the Lord.
Father we believe that you are calling us to live life at the moral level of a man like Daniel. This afternoon we embrace that vision of excellence and we ask you forgiveness because often we don’t live at that level. But today, once again, Lord, we come with the firm determination to please you and to honor you before honoring men or any social rule. Empower us. Pour your Holy Spirit on us. Father let us be like torches in the middle of the night shedding light on the darkening world. We declare Lord that you are faithful, that you will honor those who honor you.