Faithlife Sermons

Exiled; Not forgotten

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intro

When I was a freshmen in high school, I was attending church school in a similar fashion to Eddlemon at ACA in charlotte. That school, at the time ran through 10th grade. Our youth pastor along with our teacher decided to take the 9th and 10th graders on a mission trip to New York City. We did everything from preach, cleaning, and dressing up like clowns visiting children’s hospitals. Something I was struck with while in the city was just how incredibly concrete the entire place was. It had definitely earned the distinction of “concrete jungle.” While there is no denying New York City has some breathtaking architecture, and shows the progression of modern civilization that has evolved over the decades, when you think about it, it feels almost 100% manmade. Seriously, I remember thinking where are all the trees??
Then we went walking into central park. Suddenly we were boxed into nature. Walking around NYC, you wonder can any plant life survive in this city, from Queens, to Manhatten, to Brooklyn, to the Bronx, or “da Bronx” as we were often corrected…next to no trees. Central parks seems to act as an oasis of green exiled in the midst of a concrete jungle. Yet it survives and offers a different picture than its surroundings. It offers life.
As Christians, it may sometimes seem we are boxed into a world counter how we were taught in our Bibles. I was talking to the kids at Eddlemon last Tuesday, how being nice and encouraging people is becoming more refreshing these days because frankly we don’t see it enough. We get to make the choice every day to represent our God or not. We were talking about divine appointments, meaning sometimes you just don’t know who God is planning for your to bless, or be blessed by. It can be as refreshing as walking into a beautiful park as an escape from the noise and chaos of a big city.
Can you imagine the experience of Daniel and his three friends as they were taken captive and brought from their homeland of Israel and into the metropolitan land of Babylon. No longer was their monotheistic culture the norm. They were the foreigners exiled to an existence which was polar opposite to the one which they had been raised. Would they adapt? Would they compromise? Would they flee? Would they remain faithful.
Those of you who are parents and grandparents are watching your kids grow up in a landscape vastly different from the one you grew up in. Sometimes it feels like they are exiled to their own Babylon, or as some would put it. Digital Babylon. Not unlike concrete and steel skyscrapers you are boxed into while entering NYC, it seems unavoidable that generations today are boxed into digital walls, and digital visual stimulus. All of us are attached to our devices, but with young people it is even more. Its not just simply phones and game systems. It is the digital communities that have developed often unbeknownst to their guardians.
With all the constant excitement and dopamine highs that technology gives…Does Christian Spirituality even have a chance at grasping the attention of our screen addicted society. Can it compare with the latest modern warfare video game? Can it compare with bingewatching television. Can it compare with hundreds of social media apps that come out? Can it compare with the easier and easier accessible pornograghy available at our kids finger-tips.
I’m hear to tell you it can. Living a life a for Jesus can take place even in this post-Christian society which has developed. God has not forgotten his people, exiled in a post Christian Babylon. Today we are going to attempt to learn to swim seemingly upstream and help generations walk with Jesus.
Lets pray
As you begin reading the book of Daniel in chapter 1, you find the mighty Babylon has turned its attention more than the surrounding nations, but was looking to conquer peoples and take not only their riches but their wisemen. Nebuchadnezzar knew he needed foreign subjects. While their was definite force in taking captives from foreign lands such as Israel, Nebuchadnezzar treated these young professionals well. He wanted them to have the best education, the best nutrition, and the most luxuries that BABYLON had to offer.
Daniel 1:5 ESV
The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.
Among these men were Daniel, called Beltashazzar in Babylon
Hannaniah, renamed Shadrach
Mishael, renamed Meshach
Azariah, renamed Abednego
These 4 men entered Babylon by force but understandably, it would be a much easier life here, seemingly every pleasure of the world at their disposal, if they would not resist. If they would embrace their new identities.
This identity, though, had hidden intentions. These 4 men were to no longer identify as children of Israel and followers of the God in Heaven. They were devote themselves fully to Babylon, with the King serving as their deity.
Daniel 1:8 ESV
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.
Daniel resolved he would not defile himself, went further than what he ate or what he drank. Daniel had reasoned God did not plan for him to go and recant his identity. God had not exhiled him here to be forgotten. He was being called to a higher purpose.
It’s really nothing new for us as Christians, specifically Seventh-day Adventists to acknowledge a higher calling in Jesus, but these days the pressure for young people to find success in the pursuits of this world appear to be at an all time high. There is pressure to do well in high school, not just simply for gaining knowledge to but to qualify for scholarships, to do well in college not just for facing adulthood, but so that they can make it into the best grad school program and to find a job, and make enough money, not for their family’s future, but likely pay off student loan debt.
You look at the world we have created and maybe you think, no wonder everyone seems to need an escape. Some turn to their devices, some turn to marijuana or other drugs, some turn to alchohol. Some turn to all 3.
Those of you hear who reasoned to turn to Jesus as your escape know that living a life in Jesus is not really an escape at all. Turning to Jesus just means you have a navigator who is leading you through the challenges head on and with the assurance that he will be with you, and will never abandon you. Being plugged into Jesus means starting your day with Him and setting the tone for the rest of your daily activities.
Claire Diaz-Ortiz who was one of the originators of twitter recently sat down for an interview with Barna research group. They asked her the question, “In a world where people rarely “turn off.” What kind of effect do you see this having on individuals and the public as a whole?”
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Her answer was: “Everyday we wake up to our iphones and we go to sleep to our iphones, and in the middle we sometimes dont even remember to live. We spend hours of our week simply online and not neccesarily being productive or making meaningful connections or relationships around us. We are in a state of digital overwhelm, we need to figure out how to get out of that. One of the problems of living our lives online is that we are essentially under constant attack. If we think of what our ancestors would do---when they would wake up in the morning, go hunt something, drag it, and bring it home---they were experiencing adrenaline rushes as a result of fight or flight response. The problem is, today, we feel that when we check our email. We check our email, thinking that their is a one in a million chance something really amazing is in there. Maybe you won the lottery, or got a job promotion. something great could be there, so we are constantly checking our email, facebook, instagram, twitter (and I would add snapchat, whatsapp, and tiktok) in efforts to find that next high, essentially. We’re seeking the digital “high” and as a result we’re burnt out and stressed out.
Last november, my wife and I decided we wanted to get away go be outside in nature. Something seemingly gets harder and harder with our busy schedules. We were both in need of some peace and rest from work, business, and technology. When the temperatures got down below freezing at night and we were competing for who got to have Riley the dog in our sleeping bag for warmth, we wondered if we needed to head back a little early.
When our air mattress began losing air (we thought just because of the temperature) but really because of a hole, we wondered if we could make it another night.
When the fire wood, I had bought from the campsite seemingly would not catch, no matter how much lighter fluid and kindling sticks I added, and it was hard to get warm and make food…we debated going home.
When thoughts of our queen size pillow-top mattress at home started calling our names to head home....we debated it…we decided to we wanted to stick it out :-)....and let me tell you, we were thrilled we did. When we did head home the following day, we both felt so much more refreshed. It had been nice to have two days mostly unplugged from our phones and enjoying each other as well as enjoying the nature God had blessed us with.
Studies will tell you, and my own experience is that when we take time to unplug, it is beneficial to our overall mental and physical health.
Would anyone be upset at me if I suggested, I believe God wants us to unplug more so we can spend more time with him?
Some of you might be thinking...”Yes my son or daughter needs to hear this” or maybe you are thinking of your grandkids. Yet according to Barna…adults are spending more and more time behind a screen, almost on par with kids.
I know a select few of you ready to whip out your flip phones and say, not me pastor....I want you know when I say unplug, I’m not just talking about technology. I’m talking about the parts of our life that we identify with more than our creator. That could be your job, that could be money investments, that could any number of things that we wake up that monopolize our time and energy. Unplug.
Thats what I believe Daniel wanted to do. As mentioned earlier, Daniel seeking to not be defiled was more than dietary reasons. Daniel desired to maintain and grow his identity in Christ. And he saw it more important to honor God than even any threat, or coercision or peer pressure to blend in with Babylonian culture.
Daniel and his friends reality was that they were living in Babylon…but they were not Babylon. I imagine it must comforting for Daniel to not be the only one with this resolve.
Mrs. White writes in the book Prophets and Kings
In reaching this decision, the Hebrew youth did not act presumptuously but in firm reliance upon God. They did not choose to be singular, but they would be so rather than dishonor God. Should they compromise with wrong in this instance by yielding to the pressure of circumstances, their departure from principle would weaken their sense of right and their abhorrence of wrong. The first wrong step would lead to others, until, their connection with Heaven severed, they would be swept away by temptation.
Daniel 1:9–10 ESV
And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.”
In reaching this decision, the Hebrew youth did not act presumptuously but in firm reliance upon God. They did not choose to be singular, but they would be so rather than dishonor God. Should they compromise with wrong in this instance by yielding to the pressure of circumstances, their departure from principle would weaken their sense of right and their abhorrence of wrong. The first wrong step would lead to others, until, their connection with Heaven severed, they would be swept away by temptation.
White, E. G. (1917). The Story of Prophets and Kings as Illustrated in the Capitvity and Restoration of Israel (Vol. 2, p. 483). Pacific Press Publishing Association.
So you see it wasn’t a legalistic principle for which Daniel and his companions reasoned to not partake. It was because they were drawing a line in the sand and set a standard they would not cross, to avoid a slippery slope away from God.
Daniel 1:9–10 ESV
And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.”
This was a big request. Offending the king or even one of his subordinates was great risk, to not only the luxuries they were living in, but their very lives and the lives of their accomplices.
Daniel then appealed to Melzar, the officer in special charge of the Hebrew youth, requesting that they might be excused from eating the king’s meat and drinking his wine. He asked that the matter be tested by a ten days’ trial, the Hebrew youth during this time being supplied with simple food, while their companions ate of the king’s portions
Daniel then appealed to Melzar, the officer in special charge of the Hebrew youth, requesting that they might be excused from eating the king’s meat and drinking his wine. He asked that the matter be tested by a ten days’ trial, the Hebrew youth during this time being supplied with simple food, while their companions ate of the king’s dainties.
Daniel knew that Melzar was also nervous and fearful at honoring his request, but the fact that he agreed to Daniel’s terms showed Daniel that God was going to be with him.
I want to suggest to all of you new years resolution crowd if you have set your resolutions to glorify God even as they are personal and for your own betterment. God is going to help you.
In the past I have set several resolutions, and quickly I would fail because I couldn’t juggle all of the new lifestyle goals I had made. And even so many had been more like diet plans, not actual life changes.
In my devotions I had come across a resolution plan to set a small amount or even one goal and let it trickle down creating more and more. Not so unsimilar to Dave Ramsey’s goals for getting out of debt, the snowball effect.
My resolution is a small one but i believe it will have a snowball effect into other areas.
I have an issue that I have a feeling many of you can relate to and that is when I wake up in the morning, more times than not I am immediately reaching for my phone and beginning my day in an inproductive way. Its not that I don’t have a devotional life, I do, but my devotional life with God was at times coming in 2nd place to my devotion to my phone. That is a problem. So I have reasoned when I wake up, the only touching of my phone is to quiet an alarm clock and then I will pick up my devotional, read and reflect, and pray. Its a seemingly small resolution, but I have reasoned my wake up time will be to God’s glory and I know He will help me. 11 days in…my days are so much better.
Daniel’s initial trial was for ten days.
At the end of the ten days’ trial the result was found to be the opposite of the prince’s fears. “Their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.” In personal appearance the Hebrew youth showed a marked superiority over their companions. As a result, Daniel and his associates were permitted to continue their simple diet during their entire course of training.
At the end of the ten days’ trial the result was found to be the opposite of the prince’s fears. “Their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.” In personal appearance the Hebrew youth showed a marked superiority over their companions. As a result, Daniel and his associates were permitted to continue their simple diet during their entire course of training.
Again Prophets and Kings sheds further light:
Prophets and Kings Chapter 39—In the Court of Babylon

For three years the Hebrew youth studied to acquire “the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.” During this time they held fast their allegiance to God and depended constantly upon His power. With their habits of self-denial they united earnestness of purpose, diligence, and steadfastness. It was not pride or ambition that had brought them into the king’s court, into companionship with those who neither knew nor feared God; they were captives in a strange land, placed there by Infinite Wisdom. Separated from home influences and sacred associations, they sought to acquit themselves creditably, for the honor of their down-trodden people, and for the glory of Him whose servants they were.

Prophets and Kings Chapter 39—In the Court of Babylon

When the time came for the youth in training to be tested, the Hebrews were examined, with other candidates, for the service of the kingdom. But “among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.”

Prophets and Kings Chapter 39—In the Court of Babylon

“In all matters of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm;” “therefore stood they before the king.”

Its possible you may not feel quite as in a fish bowl and face as much scrutiny in your professional and private life as and Daniel and his fellow exiled friends did…but I would suggest to you God is raising a generation of faithful people a people who are not ashamed of the gospel and living for Him.
Last night in serendipity, we talked about going against the current and making choices even if they are not popular. We talked about how God doesn’t rescue us from every situation or challenge. Sometimes its easier to fit in with Babylon. Yet God will stand with us as we make a stand with him. Like Shadrach, Mishack, and Abednego would learn later, God doesn’t rescue us from every fire, but promises to stand with us amongst the flames.
There is a book I began reading last month, called “Faith for Exiles.” In this book it breaks down 5 practices for young and old alike to help us follow Jesus in what they call Digital Babylon.
I wanted to share with you these practices which I will unpack further in upcoming sermons.
For the purpose of developing a resilient identity, we must experience intimacy with Jesus.
You know the things that vy for your time and attention. But if we seek to achieve a spiritual resilience, we need to give a never quitting effort in creating quiet time with Jesus. This intimacy includes as much listening as it does talking.
2. In a complex and anxious age, develop the muscles of cultural discernment.
With a focused heart and mind on Jesus, we will seek to not be swayed by the wind. We wont let politics or debate, or personal trigger points dictate our steps, but truly surrender to the creator’s order of steps.
3. When isolation and mistrust are the norms, forge meaningful, intergenerational relationships.
I think one of the biggest reason different generations don’t seems to always be at odds with each other, because they are listening to each other. If we want to be a church that is growing young, it doesn’t mean it is only filled with young people, its a church that has all generations active and working and praying for and with each other. If you are an adult in this church and you don’t have a young or younger person you are actively praying for and seeking to mentor, I would surely encourage you to find one. Likewise young people, if you don’t have a person in your life who has more life experience than you actively in your life. I want to encourage you to broaden your circle.
4. To ground and motivate an ambitious generation, train for vocational discipleship.
How cool would it be if those of you here who have been passionately working for God’s causes, whether it be here in the local church or in some other capacity, we would mentor and disciple young people in that field and plant seeds in their life in that way.
5. Curb entitlement and self centered tendencies by engaging in counter cultural mission.
This means its not about you and me, its about engaging the world through the cause and mission of Christ. It will be quite literally swimming up stream, but know that you are never alone.
While we were on that mission trip in New York, while we were there at Central Park, our youth pastor and teacher stopped us and talked to us about the importance of shining our light. For one week I participated in things that would help send me down a path that would lead me into the ministry as a full time vocation. That week, I dressed up like a clown, I served food, I passed out literature and glow tracts, and I preached my first sermon ever, in a drug rehab center in the bronx New York, speaking through a translator. I did things I never thought I was capable of when I responded to the call be a light, I was not exiled to the concrete jungle I was placed to spread joy and the good news.
Today it is my challenge to each of you in the New Year, is to take some time if you haven’t already, unplug and ask God what current he wants you to wade against. What light is He asking you to be? You are not exiled to Babylon without Hope. God has not forgotten you. He has something for you do. May He reveal it to you in your quiet moments with Him.
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