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DANIEL: The Presence of God in a World Far from God

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Daniel 1

For I know the plans I have for you” —this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, HCSB)
We have all seen this verse plastered on t-shirts, sweatshirts, billboards, coffee mugs and the like most of our lives. It is a favorite verse for many people, probably for some of us in this room.
Have you ever looked at the context of the promise - the surrounding paragraphs?
Listen to just a little of the surrounding texts:
This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and live in them.
Plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters.
Multiply there; do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.”” (Jeremiah 29:4–7, HCSB)
Let me sum up: the exile is God’s plan and purpose for His people. In Daniel 1 we read and often overlook this important verse:
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it.
The Lord handed Jehoiakim king of Judah over to him, along with some of the vessels from the house of God.
Nebuchadnezzar carried them to the land of Babylon, to the house of his god, and put the vessels in the treasury of his god.” (Daniel 1:1–2, HCSB)
Notice the words:
The Lord handed Jehoiakim king of Judah over to him... (Daniel 1:2, HCSB)
The promise of Jeremiah 29:11 we so often claim as our birthright was given to people in exile - as God had directed and orchestrated.
Pause and ponder:
Daniel and his friends - as well as all those taken by Babylonian forces - were where they were because God placed them there.
The challenges of Daniel’s record is not to focus on the return of Jesus, the victorious triumph of God’s kingdom. Rather Daniel’s experiences are meant to challenge us with one question:
How do we successfully live in a land that we do not recognize?

IDENTITY ISSUES

Notice: Dan 1:7
Daniel 1:7 HCSB
The chief official gave them other names: he gave the name Belteshazzar to Daniel, Shadrach to Hananiah, Meshach to Mishael, and Abednego to Azariah.
Each of the four were given new names. The names were reflections of the gods the Babylonian’s worshiped - in direct violation of God’s insistence that He alone is worthy of worship.
Notice: Dan 1:8 Daniel (and presumably his three friends) dared to stand against the king’s direction and insist on a diet similar to the one which they had eaten in Jerusalem.
Daniel 1:8 HCSB
Daniel determined that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine he drank. So he asked permission from the chief official not to defile himself.
There is no indication of a fuss about the name change. The diet however appears to be something on which Daniel and his friends are willing to stake their very lives (see Dan 1:10-16).
There were likely other Jewish young men who simply accepted the king’s diet.
What really makes us who we are? Is our identity bound in our name? We’ve all said to someone ‘You look like a (insert name here)’ or the reverse: ‘You don’t look like a (insert name here).’
From the beginning of the trek in the wilderness where God shaped His people with His Word and His ways we find that food is a veery important way of distinguishing between God’s people and everyone else.
Did you remember how Moses received his name? It wasn’t his birth mother that named him but rather it was the Pharaoh’s daughter who ‘adopted’ him.
As we look at Daniel and his three friends - distinct from the other young men brought from the royal families in Jerusalem, the insistence on diet was truly radical.
What the world calls us is less important than our willingness to define ourselves.
Daniel and his friends were wiling to stake their lives on their identity as God’s people known for rejecting meat sacrificed to idols, food that represented the opulence and wealth of the king.

The Best and the Brightest

In the early 1970’s a book titled ‘The Best and the Brightest’ was released. David Halberstam attempted to explain how government officials - most of whom were regarded as the best and brightest results of American education- could miscalculate and misunderstand the circumstances in Vietnam so badly.
We could discuss the merits of his work for days, but don’t miss the point. Just because one graduates from a prestigious school and succeeds in their chosen profession does not mean they are the wisest and most capable.
Look at
Daniel 1:9 HCSB
God had granted Daniel favor and compassion from the chief official,
and
Daniel 1:17 HCSB
God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel also understood visions and dreams of every kind.
Daniel’s insistence on a distinct diet was only possible because of favor granted by God from the chief eunuch of the king.
Daniel and his friends knowledge, understanding, and Daniel’s distinct gift of interpreting dreams were not the result of the training and education given.
Rather, their abilities were given by God and enhanced by the training they received.
Without God’s gift all the education in the world would not have benefited these young men.
The rose to the place of prominence because of God’s gift, God’s presence, God’s favor.
God tested His people as they left Egypt for the Promised Land by depriving His people of regular provision and thus forcing them to trust His daily provision of manna.
Daniel, having left Israel for exile demonstrates the kind of commitment God sought from those leaving Egypt.
Only those who are content with whatever God chooses to provide are able to shine like stars in a dark world.
Paul, living generations later expressed Daniel’s lessons in two significant statements in his letter to the believers in Philippi:
Philippians 2:13–15 HCSB
For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.
and
Philippians 4:11–13 HCSB
I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Trusting God will be evident one way or another
In the early 20th century many Christian leaders and theologians were persuaded that the fulfillment of God’s kingdom was literally days if not weeks away.
Progress in every field was remarkable. Labor laws had changed American culture so that hours and working conditions were rapidly improving.
Education became a federal and state concern and kids all across the US received a similar education.
The economy was growing. Jobs were plentiful. As those leading preachers and scholars taught: the kingdom of God was just over the horizon.
Then came 1914 and the world plunged into a war, interrupted by a worldwide economic crash, leading to a second war that engulfed almost every nation in the world.
Rarely after the mid-1940’s did anyone speak of how the kingdom of God was just over the horizon.
Even the wonderful years we often fondly remember (i.e. 1950-1967) were pierced by all sorts of challenges.
Racial issues, educational challenges, social and moral decay, military confusion and uncertainty, all left a mess from which we probably won’t recover.
And here we are 50 - 60 years after what we often nostalgically seek wondering…why hasn’t Jesus come and done what He and He alone can do.
After the ten day’s of testing and the three years of training Daniel and his friends found themselves standing before a king. Nebuchadnezzar was the one who had taken them from their home. This was the king that had completely destroyed the temple - the very dwelling place of God!
This was the king who had taken the items dedicated for worship of the One True God and carelessly tossed them in his own treasures - to be forgotten and ignored.
Clearly better than any of the other young men Daniel and these three friends “began to attend the king” - one who had destroyed their families, one who had devastated their homes, one who had demolished their place of worship.
The very God whom Nebuchadnezzar claimed to have defeated in battle had raised four young men to stand closest to the king, advising him on all matters. Daniel, standing our from even the three, served pagan, ungodly men his entire life… because God placed him there.
Seek the welfare of where you are…not just where you want to be!

SO WHAT?

Daniel lived in a land and time far, far away from ours.
Can we know this side of eternity the impact of the advice and counsel of these 4 young men, taken from all that was familiar to them, yet trusting in God NO MATTER WHAT had on those making decisions in the Babylonian, Median, and Persian kingdoms?
Where do you think the wise men from the East who came seeking ‘the one born ‘king of the Jews’ learned about him if not from the writings of a foreigner in the service of a pagan king named Daniel?
Like Daniel and his friends we are to heed the counsel of Jeremiah:
Yes, God has much greater things in store for us when He takes us to be with Himself- whether through death or the imminent return of Jesus.
Yes, like Daniel and his friends we must choose to identify ourselves not by the names given by the world - such as: clueless, old-fashioned, out of step with history, hopelessly out date and so on....
The essence of the good news of Jesus is that HE establishes our identity - His saving life, His saving death, His life-giving resurrection make it possible for us to live from a new identity - one that is true to who He created, shaped and molded us to be!
Jeremiah’s counsel practiced by Daniel and his three friends:
Hold on to Hope
Our hope is in what God has done, what Jesus has given, what the Holy Spirit gifts us to do and to be…
Trust God with the provision He gives
The same God who gave remarkable abilities and gifts to Daniel and his friends still makes Himself known by granting believers remarkable gifts and abilities…
Take the opportunities God has given to advance His agenda
I know how tempting it is to look past the current conditions in our world and look to the coming of Jesus. I long for that day, but until God takes us to be with Him we have an assignment from God to be His agents of change in our world. The church - that is individual believers like you and me - like Daniel and his friends has been placed where we are so that God will work in and through us now - not just for heaven’s sake, but for the advancement of God’s kingdom. We will not see His kingdom in fullness till heaven, but until heaven we are called, gifted, and empowered to live so that His kingdom is visible and tangible to our family, our neighbors, our community, and to our world.
Will you join me in praying that today, tomorrow, the rest of this week we will be clearly identified by what God is doing inside us?
Will you pray with me for God to help us identify the abilities and gifts He has given for the advancement of his kingdom here and now?
Will you pray with me that we will be obedient to the assignments God gives us - even those that may involve supporting and serving the community and institutions that serve us?
This all begins - just as it did with Daniel and his friends that God is at work - calling a world filled with His creations - all 7 billion of them - to Himself through a relationship with Himself through Jesus Christ - the One who said - no one comes to the Father except through Me..
IF you’d like to start this journey today - let me know- connection card, phone, email, Facebook post…
If you need some guidance on applying the abilities God has given you - let’s have a conversation…
IF you sense God is calling you to a greater role in kingdom building, I’d like to have a conversation with you…
Use the connection card - place it in the offering plate at the back of the room, call, text, email, FACEBOOK message …
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