Lessons of Courage from the Old Testament 2
Black & White in a Grey World
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
July 10, 2005

 

Main Passage: Daniel 1:1-17 (NLT)

 

About 600 B.C., a new empire was developing in the area of Southwest Asia. It was the Babylonian Empire, and at the time we’re talking about this morning, it was under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar. Well, the Babylonians swept across the land, eventually arriving at Israel. At this point in their history, most of the Israelites had turned their backs on God and had thus rejected His protection. So the Babylonians were quickly able to conquer them. And then, the Babylonians took many of the Israelites captive and led them back to Babylon. Here… let me show it to you on a map.

[PowerPoint] The Babylonian Empire was centralized around here, and Israel is over here. The army swept across the land to Israel, conquered it, and then took many of the Israelites back to Babylon into captivity. Today, this area is just a small country that goes by the name Iraq. Anybody here ever hear of Iraq?

Among these captives was a young man named Daniel. And Daniel, as it turns out, was a faithful follower of God’s and was also a very gifted young man. So gifted, in fact, that he was chosen by King Nebuchadnezzar as one of the elite Israelites to be trained for service in the king’s palace. So Daniel actually got to move into the palace to receive all kinds of training. He was even given the best food… food straight from the king’s table. Yes, that’s right… it was food fit for a king, which sounds pretty good to me. But there was a problem with this. The food that Daniel and the others would have been offered would have previously be offered to idols. And remember, Daniel worshipped the one true God. So he refused to eat the food because he considered it to be unclean and contaminated because it had been offered to idols.

Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but keep in mind that Daniel was a captive, he had been given a special privilege to live in the palace, and the king himself had ordered this food to be the food given to him. But the Bible says…

Daniel 1:8 (NLT)
“But Daniel made up his mind not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king.”

And he showed the courage of his convictions by refusing to eat it.

Daniel knew how to overcome his fear and take a stand for what he considered to be right. And from his example, what I want us to do this morning is define a strategy that will enable us to take a stand for what is right today.

 

Taking a S.T.A.N.D.

Set standards and be guided by them.

A few centuries before Jesus was born, Alexander the Great conquered almost the entire known world using military strength, cleverness and a bit of diplomacy.
And according to one story, when approaching one strongly fortified walled city, Alexander took only a small company of soldiers. Alexander, standing outside the walls, raised his voice and demanded to see the king. The king consented, and Alexander insisted that the king surrender the city and its inhabitants to him and his little band of fighting men.
When the king heard this demand, he laughed. “Why should we surrender to you? You have only a handful of men. You can’t do us any harm?”
But Alexander offered to give the king a demonstration. He ordered his men to line up single file and start marching. He marched them straight toward a sheer cliff.
The townspeople gathered on the wall and watched in shocked silence as, one by one, Alexander’s soldiers marched without hesitation right off the cliff to their deaths! After ten soldiers died, Alexander ordered the rest of the men to return to his side.
The townspeople and the king immediately surrendered to Alexander the Great. They realized that if the men were actually willing to commit suicide at the command of this dynamic leader, then nothing could stop his eventual victory.

These soldiers knew what they stood for and they knew where their allegiance was. And they were willing to die before compromising their standards.

Daniel was a man like that. And later on in the book of Daniel we’re told that three of Daniel’s friends were like that, too… Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. This time, King Nebuchadnezzar had built an image of gold ninety feet tall and ordered that whenever the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music started sounding, all the people who heard it had to bow down and worship the image. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to do this. They had set a standard that they would only worship the one, true God and they weren’t about to turn their backs on Him. So when Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace unless they bowed down, this was their response:

Daniel 3:17-18 (NLT)
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty can be sure that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

A few years ago, I read about a 14 year old California boy who organized a Bible study group at his school. Some of the other students who weren’t so found of the idea ganged up against the boy to force him to stop the Bible study. And when they threatened him with violence, this was his response:

“Go ahead. If I die, I know where I am going. Where are you going?”
~ 14 year old California boy to his assailants, beaten for organizing a Bible study group at his school, in Christian Society Today, November/December 1993.

The boy knew what he stood for, and he was willing to die for it.

Or how about Rachel Scott? The 17 year-old had plans to become a missionary to Africa, but one fateful morning in her Columbine high school she was shot in the back. And as she lied face down on the ground one of the shooters picked her head up by her hair, held a gun to her head, and was asked if she believed in God. She knew that she would have to recant her faith or die. She chose to die.

Or take Job, from the Old Testament. Job went through incredible trials, losing his wealth, his family and even his health in the process. And all the while his friends and even his wife were telling him to curse God and die. But Job knew his standards. He knew where his allegiance lied. And his response to all of the suffering he was going through was…

Job 13:15 (CEV)
“God may kill me, but still I will trust Him…”

How about you? What things are you willing to live and die for? How about on a daily basis? Are there times when you compromise your standards in little ways? And what is the basis for the standards that you do hold dear? Is it the shifting culture we live in, or is it your own personal feelings or desires which are always in flux, or is it the eternal Word of God? Set your standards and be guided by them.

 

Think about the consequences before you act.

I have only gone sailing once before, and that was eight years ago. So Harvey, you’re going to have to tell me if I’m wrong on this. (Actually, don’t, because you’ll ruin my point.)

But from what I understand, you have to adjust the sails according to the wind conditions. With a nice even breeze, you’re going to want your sails to be fully extended to catch as much wind as possible. But in very strong winds or gusty conditions, you’ll want to pull the sail in a bit and lower the surface area being exposed to the wind. Otherwise, it may prove uncontrollable and the ship may even capsize. So you really need to keep an eye on the weather conditions and determine what the best course of action would be to get the desired results. Because everything you do will have an impact of some kind. So you need to consider the consequences. In Luke 14:31-32, Jesus says…

Luke 14:31-32 (NLT)
“Or what king would ever dream of going to war without first sitting down with his counselors and discussing whether his army of ten thousand is strong enough to defeat the twenty thousand soldiers who are marching against him? If he is not able, then while the enemy is still far away, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace.”

Basically, choose your battlefields carefully, know what you’re getting into, and be willing to pay the price if your standards demand it.

 

Consequences of Taking a Stand:

  1. The world will notice you’re different.

    If you’re living by standards that most are not, and if you’re taking a STAND for Jesus, then there’s no way you can hide it. If you go to work day after day and no one recognizes that there’s something different about you because of your relationship with Christ and because of the things you hold dear, something’s wrong. Paul wrote in Romans 12:2…

    Romans 12:2 (NLT)
    Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.

    Are you conforming or being transformed?

     

  2. The world will get mad because you won’t conform.

    This isn’t seen in this first chapter of Daniel, but it is later on in the book. By this time, there was a new ruler… King Darius. And he appointed Daniel to a high political office. But unlike our stereotype of politicians today, Daniel was someone who wouldn’t conform to the pressure of others. And there were people who couldn’t accept that. In fact, the Bible says…

    Daniel 6:4 (NLT)
    Then the other administrators and princes began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling his affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize. He was faithful and honest and always responsible.

    So they plotted against him and set him up to be thrown into a den of hungry lions. You may have heard of this event before, and if so you know that God shut the mouths of those lions and rescued Daniel. But you’ve got to wonder if Daniel knew what he was getting into. I believe he did.

    Or if you want to talk about Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego again… King Nebuchadnezzar was furious that they wouldn’t compromise their standards and bow down to the statue of himself.

    Daniel 3:13 (NLT)
    Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be brought before him.

    Now, my personality is one of peace. I don’t like tension or anger. I want people to like me, and one of the hardest things for me to do in ministry is confront people. I’ve had to do it, and it’s extremely difficult for me. And there are times when I should have confronted someone but I didn’t. So do me a favour… don’t give me a reason to.

    But you know, I’ve come to realize that there are times when my allegiance to God requires me to say or do things, or not do things, that are going to make other people upset with me. That’s part of the consequence of not conforming, and I’m willing to live with that.

     

  3. The world will question what makes you different.

    I love biographies. I have to confess, I don’t read a lot of them. But I do watch a lot of them. People like Ghandi, Galileo, Copernicus, Abraham Lincoln, Jesse Owens, and Martin Luther King, Jr. fascinate me because they were different. In fact, one of my favorite series on TV last year was The Greatest Canadian. (I see the U.S. has borrowed that idea for a series this year.) The series looked at people who challenged the status quo. And I’m interested in people like this because I want to know what makes them special. I mean, most people just go with the flow and blend in, but when someone goes against the flow people want to know why.

    In Daniel’s case, after he survived a night in a den of lion’s, King Darius wondered what made Daniel so special. He asked…

    Daniel 6:20 (NLT)
    “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you worship continually, able to rescue you from the lions?”

    The world will question what makes you different.

     

  4. The world will test you regarding your commitment.

    When Daniel refused to eat the food that had been offered to idols, he actually invited the people to test him. He said…

    Daniel 1:12 (NLT)
    “Test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water.”

    Nebuchadnezzar told Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego;

    Daniel 3:15 (NLT)
    “I will give you one more chance. If you bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments, all will be well. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace.”
     

Their commitment was tested, and they passed the test. So let me ask you, are you really all that committed or will you give in when pressured?

 

Act according to what is right, not what “feels good.”

Consider Jesus, just minutes before He would be arrested and subsequently executed in a very painful way. He was not exactly eager to go through with it, but He was willing because He knew it was right. In fact, the book of Matthew in chapter 26 records some of the words He prayed to His Father that night…

Matt. 26:39 (NLT)
He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.”

“If it feels good, do it.” That seems to be the motto of our culture. We use feelings to justify all sorts of misconduct. It’s pleasure that we’re seeking. And it’s our natural tendency to do whatever it is that will bring us that pleasure.

But doing what feels good isn’t always doing what is right. As Oscar Wilde said 114 years ago…

“The advantage of the emotions is that they lead us astray.”
~ Oscar Wilde

I’m sure the king’s food would have tasted great to Daniel. I’m sure Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego would have preferred not to be thrown into the fire. But they were committed to doing what was right, not just what felt good.

 

Neutralize negative influences.

In South America, jungle tribes can often earn money by trapping animals to be used in research by scientists the world over. And monkeys are one of the prime targets.

And from what I’ve read, they’ve got a very interesting method for capturing monkeys. Now understand, I have no way of verifying this… this is just what I’ve read. First of all, the tribe members drill a hole in a coconut, hollow out the insides, and fasten the coconut to a chain. Then they set out into the jungle in search of a band of wild monkeys. When they believe they are in the vicinity of a band of monkeys, they begin to fasten the coconut to the base of a tree. Meanwhile, the curious monkeys watch from the treetops to see what the tribe members are doing. And they pay particular attention when the tribe members take a piece of candy or other bait and make a great show of placing it inside the coconut.

After the people leave, it’s not long before one of these monkeys comes down from his perch in the trees and goes straight to the coconut. He reaches into the hole and grabs the bait, but only then does he discover that he can’t get his hand back out. His fist is just too big. And instead of letting go of the bait and sliding his hand back out, he’ll actually hold on to the bait until the people return or until he starves to death.

Isn’t it interesting how we can have things or people in our lives that we just have to hold on to, even though we know they’ve got us trapped? And even though we know it’s hurting us, we won’t let go and walk away? But listen to the wise instruction Paul gave to Timothy…

2 Timothy 3:2-5 (NLT)
For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control; they will be cruel and have no interest in what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act as if they are religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. You must stay away from people like that.

And back in Daniel chapter 1, remember that Daniel neutralized the negative influence by asking permission to eat other things rather than the food from the king’s table.

Susanna Wesley was a remarkable woman. Back in the late 17th, early 18th centuries, she raised a household of 10 children (had 19 children, 10 survived), including Charles Wesley who wrote many of the most popular hymns, and John Wesley, who was the founder of Methodism and for whom our church… the Wesleyan Church… is named. And it was to John that she gave a terrific definition of what sin is. She said…

“Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of your body over your mind, that thing for you is sin.”
~ Susanna Wesley

What or who is it in your life that does that to you?

 

Develop a lifelong habit of doing the right thing, not the easy thing.

We’ve already talked about choosing to do what is right, not just what feels good. That’s a choice you can make in every individual situation. But the more you do that, the more you will build into your life a habit of doing the right thing. The choice gets easier and easier, even if the stakes become greater and greater.

I want to read to you something that was supposedly written by a young Christian in Africa and tacked to the wall of his house. It’s entitled, “My Commitment as a Christian.”
 

My Commitment as a Christian

I'm part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I'm a disciple of His. I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.

My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I'm finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labour by power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way rough, my companions few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won't give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no problems recognizing me – my banner will be clear!

 

What is the banner of your life? What message does the way you live send? Is it clear where your allegiance lies?

At the bottom of your notes this morning you’ll find five application questions. This afternoon I want you to read through those, contemplate each one and determine what may need to take place in your life for you to be a person like Daniel… able to STAND for what is right... what is black and white in a grey world.

 

Application Questions:

  1. What decisions in the past has strengthened my commitment to God?

  2. What area of my life indicates a weak commitment?

  3. Who can I ask to support me in prayer in this area?

  4. What negative influence needs to be removed from my life?

  5. Am I willing to take a stand for God, even when it will cost me?

 

 

 

Copyright © 2005 SunriseOnline.ca