Sunday, January 26, 2014

“Recalculating!”

A Sermon Based Upon Daniel 12
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
3rd Sunday of Epiphany, January 26, 2014
2014 Winter Bible Study Sermon Series, 4/4 

“…But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book.”
 (Dan 12:1 NRS)

Many people today rely upon GPS systems to get around these days.  Such devices have grown in sophistication and they can help us drive more safely, find gas stations, restaurants, and hotels.  Still, having a GPS is no guarantee that you won’t get lost or make a wrong turn.  Recently the news told of some people who, by listening to their GPS, took a wrong turn and drove right off a boat ramp into a lake.   In another instance someone turned right and did not realize that they turned too soon and drove into a house.  Even if you have a GPS you’d better keep your eyes on the road and use common sense.  But the systems do have a way to let us know that we’ve gotten off track: “Recalculating!”  That’s how my Garmin GPS tells me I’ve ventured off the planned route and gets everything back in sync. 

“Recalculating” is a good way to interpret the visions of the final chapters of Daniel (9-12).   Because Biblical predictions did not turn out exactly like Daniel had believed, he had to do a little recalculating.   In other words, he was lost!   He had a prophetic map in hand, but it wasn’t working just right.   God was doing things somewhat differently than the prophets had expected.   So what do you do when God changes the route?  What do you do, when for reasons of grace or reasons of judgment, God ‘recalculates’ the route from where we are to where he wants to take us?

STOP…. AND PRAY
Before we get to our text where Daniel says,  “At that time your people shall be delivered” (Daniel 12:1b), we need to go back to chapter 9.   There Daniel is trying to figure out the ‘time table’ of the end of political and religious and persecution and the coming of God’s eternal kingdom. 

Even already in chapter 8, Daniel is unable to ‘understand’ the significance of his these visions and requires help (8.15).   But the contents of the vision was so overwhelming, even when explained by a heavenly messenger, that it made him sick and he still could ‘not understand’ (8.27).   So what happens next?  Daniel does what anyone should do.  He prays (9.3).   He prays and asks God about the unfulfilled promise of 70 years of exile given in the prophecy of Jeremiah (9:2-3, Jeremiah 25:11-14; 29: 10-14).   But “Seventy years” have passed and nothing has changed.   While the kingdom of Babylon had come and gone, God’s people have returned to their homeland, they have rebuilt their temple, but now other oppressive Kingdoms are ruling in the place of Babylon; The Medes, the Persians, and now the Greeks.  Still, the end is not yet.  The promised ‘eternal’ kingdom that will be ‘built to last’ has not come.   They are ‘home’ but have only traded one form of bondage for another.  Exile has changed its physical location, but they are still a long way from the kingdom.   They have returned home, but still feel like they are lost.  Their spiritual GPS is trying to recalculate, but they still don’t know how to find their ‘location’ on God’s map. 

This is why Daniel 9 records one of the great prayers of the Hebrew Bible.   Daniel is trying to find himself and the location of his people.   This is why Daniel prays.  This is why Daniel turns to God in prayer.   We know that Daniel prays daily, but this prayer is on a different level.  He is desperately praying and seeking an answer.  He fasts.  He puts on sackcloth, and dusted himself with ashes (9.3).  This means he serious.  When I was dating my wife, and she gave took off her engagement ring because she had to think over what it might mean to be married to a preacher,  I rented a hotel room and fasted for 3 days.   This meant I was serious.  This meant I knew she was serious too.  This meant I wanted and needed God to give us an answer.   After those three days I was ready for whatever answer came, yes or no.  But until I had prayed, I don’t think I could have handled a ‘no’ answer.  But after I had prayed, I was ready and willing to wait on her answer, even though it came two weeks later.   I prayed and I got ready.  This is part of what Daniel is doing too.  We would all face life much better is we would ‘stop’ and pray before we rushed to an answer.   Think how many hasty decisions could be avoided!  Think how many angry tempers would have subsided!  Think how many of us could have listened and learned before we jumped into conclusions we could never get back!

Perhaps, the most important lesson we can gain about Daniel’s prayer is not the words he said, or the answer he got, but it is the ‘tradition’ or ‘habit’ he had to put prayer in the center of his daily life.   There is a lot in Daniel’s prayer that went on besides seeking an answer to a puzzling question about life.  Daniel’s prayer is filled with confessions of sin (9.4-15), seeking God’s forgiveness (9.16-18), worshipping God’s presence (9.4,7.), as well as, relating his feelings and questions to God (9.19-20).   The substance of Daniel’s prayer reminds us not only of God’s covenant and promise to his people, but it also reminds of the people’s promises made to God.  Daniel prayer helps us realize that the lack of fulfillment, emptiness, or confusion has as much to with our unwillingness to walk with God, than God’s unwillingness to walk with us.   From Daniel we learn that God is not so concerned how we pray, as he is concerned that we are a people who pray, and that we are a people who recognize our need for God each and every day when we pray.  As Bill Ireland has written, ‘whatever we make of Daniel’s reliance on tradition (to pray in sackcloth and ashes), the important thing to keep in mind is that God answers the person not the prayer’. (From Daniel: Keeping Faith when the Heat is On, Smyth and Helwys, 2012, p. 100).

THINK….. FIND NEW INSIGHT
Being people who pray is as much part of the answer to Daniel’s question about the end, as is the answer that Gabriel gives in the verses and chapters that follow (Daniel 9. 24ff).   At the conclusion to Daniel’s prayer, the angel Gabriel appears which causes Daniel to drift into a ‘trance-like’ state:  “Listen, and I will tell you what will take place…..”  The point being, if you want to know, first you have to listen and you have to be willing to learn something new, beyond Jeremiah, beyond the prophets, and even beyond the answer that you want to hear.  Are you willing to learn Daniel? 

Now, to learn a ‘new’ calculation or ‘answer’, Daniel must prepare himself not simply to talk to God, but to ‘listen’ to what God has to say through his messenger.   And what we find in the next couple of chapters is a lot of discussion about what actually happened in day of Daniel and beyond, as the remnants of Alexander the Great, and the Greek empire began to persecute Israel.   This was the time, as Daniel surveys it, after the kings of Babylon, Media and Persia have gone off the scene and the king of Greece (8.21) has his rule ‘broken’ (8.22) breaking it up into 4 parts (8.22,23).  It is ‘at the end of their rule’ when “transgressions have reached their full measure” (8.23) that the time of the final “transgression that makes desolation” (8.13; 9.26-27) takes place.  This is the time when the ‘end comes with a flood’ (8.26) and a “prince comes” who will “destroy the city and sanctuary” (8.26).  This is the time Gabriel recalculates Jeremiah’s “seventy years” (9.2) into “70 weeks” (9.24) of years”, or 490 years.   

We don’t have time to go into the historical details of what happens in these “weeks” of years which are being rehashed in Daniel chapters 8-11.   If you study carefully, you’ll see that much of the conflict being retold here is about Israel’s political and religious conflict with the various ruling kingdoms of the Medes (9.1ff), the Persians (10.1ff) and mostly with the Greeks (11.3ff).  It is with these remnants of the “Greek” rule that the rulers of the ‘south’ (11: 5ff) are eventually overthrown by the a remnant ‘king of the north’ (11.15).  And it is out of this northern kingdom that there rises up a ‘contemptible’(NRSV) or ‘vile’ (KJV) ‘person’ (11.21) who gains the kingdom through deceptive ways (11.21b) and conquers Israel’s leader (11.22) because he has his heart set “against the holy covenant” (11.28) and causes many of God’s “wise” people to “suffer” and “fall victim” (11.33-35) just before the ‘end’ (11.35).   But it is this “appointed’ ( 11.29) ‘time of the end’  (11.35) Daniel also names  a “period of wrath” (8.19; 11.36) which is “a time of anguish, such as has never occurred before” (12.b).   It is exactly at this ‘time’ (12.1) that “Michael, the great prince, the protector of your (Daniel’s) people shall arise(12.1a), and it is “at that time” that “your” (Daniel’s) “people shall be delivered (12.1c).

All of these dramatic, historical, terrible events, happening to God’s covenant people, are what bring us right up to the end of this most evil earthly rule (11.45) and ushers in the beginning of God’s eternal rule that has been promised all the way back in Daniel 7 (7.26-27).   But before we try to understand and learn what Daniel’s vision might mean for us, we need to grasp what this meant for Daniel.   We must remember that Gabriel was interpreting for Daniel’s time and right after his time, when the Greek empire (following on the coat tails of Babylon and the others) attempted to crush Israel’s faith with a new language, new religion, and a new culture.   We know the time today as the times when Antiochus Epiphanies desecrated the temple, when the Maccabees ruled and when Israel barely survived desolation into absolute darkness.   That this ‘end’ of Israel did not happen but the “end” of the remnants of the Greek empires did happen, this is what the celebration of Hanukah is about.    It is also what the book of Daniel was about, for it was the hero stories and visions in the book of Daniel, reinterpreted and recalculated, that enabled God’s people to keep the faith and not lose hope in a very dark time. 

But what about us?   Can we, should we ‘recalculate’ Daniel’s warnings, visions, and stories for our own time of struggle against evil, against empire, and against all kinds of threats to God’s people?   Should we reinterpret and recalculate the “times” we are living in?   My answer starts simple:  Jesus did.  Jesus took the message of Daniel’s “transgression of desolation” and directly read his own times, as times of the end of Jerusalem and the beginning of a whole new day for God’s people.   Remember how Jesus ‘recalculated’ Daniel’s vision for his own time, as he told his disciples in Matthew 24.15ff: "So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand),
  then those in Judea must flee to the mountains;  the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. (Mat 24:15-18 NRS)....Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see 'the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven' with power and great glory. (Mat 24:30 NRS).

I know that I might sound like a “prophecy preacher”, but I’m not saying that you should take Daniel and predict the end, but what I’m saying is that you should do what Jesus did, you should understand from Daniel that the end comes many times, and so does new beginnings, beginnings which start right when it seems that the end is near.   This is how it was in Daniel’s day and how it was in Jesus’ day, and it is still how it is in our day.   Yes, we live in times that also ask us to ‘recalculate’ and ‘reinterpret’ what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus.   If we are going to follow Jesus, whether the final end comes, or whether it is doesn’t, if we are going to keep following by faith, we must learn to read the times and recalculate what it means to be God’s faithful people in every age.   This is always what happens when evil rises up and God’s truth and God’s people come under fire.  We will think the end is near, but it is just that, close, near, almost, but ‘not yet’ or is it?   Are we living in ‘near’ or ‘not yet’ period, or are we living on the edge of God’s final kingdom?  The truth is we’ve been on the edge of the ‘end’ ever since the vision came near in Daniel and the kingdom came near in Jesus Christ.  We are a people who have been taught to keep praying for the kingdom to come, but God has not yet decided it is ‘time’ to “give us the  kingdom.”   Since it hasn’t yet come, and may not yet come, no matter how bad it looks, we are called to recalculate our faith.   We are called to rethink what it means to be a people who believe, who follow, who trust and who call themselves faithful.  This is exactly what Gabriel was helping Daniel to do, but how do we do that?   How do we see what is happening around us, and recalculate our faith and faithfulness to God? 

OBSERVE… DECIDE HOW YOU SHOULD LIVE
Daniel’s final words in this final chapter give us lasting guidance by giving us God’s big picture of what matters most.   Here, through the angelic messenger, God says, we can recalculate our faithfulness to God, even in evil times, because the faithful “shall be delivered” and because “everyone who is found written in the book” shall “awake”---some to “everlasting life”----and others to “shame and everlasting contempt”.   Those who understand this “big picture” of what will come in the ‘end’ are called the “wise” who will ‘shine like the stars” because their lives and their living is based on how they ‘recalculate’ their lives  by faith in God.  It is this kind of faith and wisdom that will “lead many to righteousness” (12: 1c-4), no matter what time it is.  

Do you recognize this ‘wisdom’ which God is now revealing to Daniel, is the same as God ultimately and supremely reveals through Jesus Christ?    It is a kind of spiritual, eternal wisdom that is gained as we decide to live by God’s word toward what is in the ‘window’ of the future, rather than choosing to live living by what going on around us, or by what is already behind us, in life’s rear view mirror.    This kind of wisdom is the kind of ‘wisdom’ we gain by understanding words like wrath, judgment, like resurrection of the dead, and like understanding how our own destiny is controlled by how we live and who we trust.   How would you ‘calculate’ or ‘recalculate’ your life, if everything that Daniel sees is true;  or by knowing that everything the gospel says is also true?  How would this cause you to ‘calculate’ what you need to do or ‘recalculate’ what you are doing?  

You can’t really read and understand a book like Daniel without stopping, thinking and deciding something important about life and about your own destiny.   A message like Daniel not only challenges us to keep our faith alive in difficult and dark days, but it also can cause us to ‘change’ our way of living for our own good, and for the good of the world.   For you see, Daniel’s message  is about being a ‘visionary’ as much as it is about seeing visions.  Daniel’s message is about deciding how you will live, more than it is about figuring out what time in history you are living in.   Daniel’s message is certainly not about gaining some secret, hidden, knowledge about who the Anti-Christ is, or about when Jesus will return, or about deciphering a calendar for the final end of history.  No, Daniel is about gaining the kind of wisdom that enables you and me to live and die with the ‘end in view’ so that we can live righteously and also “lead many to righteousness” (12.3).   That is what you thought Daniel’s message was about, wasn’t it?  It’s about gaining the wisdom that will ‘purify, cleanse and refine’ (12.10) our lives.   

Let me stop and ask:  What does it mean for you to be living the ‘good life’?  A good meal, a meaningful conversation, a lovely stroll in the afternoon, or collecting some perfect moments?  That’s what a man named Eugene O’Kelly began to seek after he was diagnosed with brain cancer.  At age 53, he seemed to be in excellent health, traveling and working long hours as chairman and chief executive of a giant accounting firm. At one point in his skyrocketing career, he was so determined to impress a potential client that he tracked down the man’s travel schedule and booked the seat next to him on a flight to Australia. He chatted with the guy halfway around the world, landed the account, and then immediately hopped on a flight back to Manhattan.

But then a visit to his doctor revealed that he had glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive brain cancer that would kill him in 100 days.  So, what do you do when you receive such devastating news? “I had focused on building and planning for the future,” said Mr. O’Kelly. “Now I would have to learn the true value of the present.”  Being a goal-oriented, Type-A high achiever, he decided to write a book about his experience: Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life. We can be glad he did, because O’Kelly is a man of faith who gives us some tremendously valuable advice about preparing for the end of our days. He decides to “unwind” relationships with important people in his life, taking the time to have intentionally final conversations with those who have meant a great deal to him.  He also goes searching for “Perfect Moments” — times of lingering over a fine meal, enjoying a long and deep conversation, taking the time to soak up the beauty of nature over the course of an afternoon. “I marveled at how many Perfect Moments I was having now,” he writes in his memoir.

Eugene O’Kelly didn’t have much time, so he had to get it right. In many ways he did, turning ordinary experiences into Perfect Moments. Then he died, reports The New York Times, just as his doctors predicted.   The end is coming for every one of us, but so often we behave as though we are going to live forever. What does it mean for us to live with the end in mind, and learn the true value of living in the present? 
(From www.homileticsonline.com, 11.26.2006).   

Some will gain that wisdom from Daniel, but sadly, some won’t gain any wisdom at all.   Some will only ‘continue to act wickedly’ and never ‘understand’ (12.10-11).   But those who will be ‘wise’ can trust even without ‘understanding’ everything (12.5-9) .   The wise learn to deal with the ‘secrets’ that ‘remain sealed’ because God gives them the ability to ‘recalculate’ faith, no matter the times.   They learn to base their lives on God’s wisdom that remains God’s, not based on wild guesses or human speculation.  

When we trust God, no matter what comes, we will always have the wisdom to re-adjust our watches and ‘rest’ in faith (12.13).   Speaking of the living toward the future we never fully know, there is another famous story about a man with a terminal disease who is in the examining room with a friend.   The dying man says to his friend, “I’m afraid to die. What do you think lies on the other side?” The friend says to the dying man, “I don’t know.” The man says, “We go to the same church. In your line of work, you’ve dealt with death a lot more than me.  Surely you have some idea.”  At that point there came a scratching on the examining room door. The doctor opened it and in bounded his dog. The friend says, “This is my dog. He’s never been in this room before. He had no idea what was inside. He just knew that his master was in here, and when I opened the door, he came in without fear.  I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I believe one thing — my Master is there, and that’s enough!”

The faith Daniel imparts can teach us how to live, how to wait, and how to keep hope alive, if we are willing to “recalculate” our living and our dying with God’s help?  What do you need to ‘recalculate’?   What do you need to stop and pray about?  What do you need to rethink?  What do you need to decide to do differently, knowing that only what God says is true and really matters?   Do you have anything you need to recalculate in your life right now?  Wisdom is waiting on you.  The future is coming.  It’s time to recalculate!  Amen.     

Sunday, January 19, 2014

“Built to Last!”

A Sermon Based Upon Daniel 7: 1-16
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
2nd Sunday of Epiphany, January 19th, 2014
2014 Winter Bible Study Sermon Series, 3/4 

“To him was given dominion and glory and kingship that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.” (Dan 7:14 NRS)

Six Flags Over Georgia is one of the South's favorite amusement parks.   Thousands of people visit there each year. The park is dedicated to the six political nations that at one time or another ruled the piece of real estate we call Georgia.  The Spanish flag unfurled its colors first in the Georgia sunshine, until the French troops moved in.  Next it was the British who flew their proud flag by ousting the French and colonizing Savannah.  But the American Revolution came and the year 1776 saw yet another banner flapping in the breeze atop the Georgia flag poles. This blue and red Georgia flag waved until the states united under the Constitution.  Next an embattled nation killed brothers and burned cities settling a family quarrel with Georgia under the flag of the Confederacy.  This dispute settled, a new flag was raised and saluted. It is the sixth flag, the stars and stripes of the United States of America!

The rise and fall of political nations ruling over one piece of ground is not unique to Georgia.  History is cluttered with the ruined wreckage of fallen empires.  There is an area along the Rhine River in Western German has switched sides between France and Germany since before Roman times.  In this area, some towns in Germany look more French than German, and some towns in France, like the great city of Strasbourg, look more German, than French.  Workers in Greece unearthed the remains of twelve cities which existed at different times belonging to different tribes of people. Each city was built atop the ruins of the former city.   In Mexico City there is a famous plaza of three cultures.  In one spot a tourist may stand and see the ruins of an Indian temple destroyed by the conquering soldiers of Spain.  Next to this ruined temple is the rubble of the Spanish government house.  It was destroyed when the Mexican Revolution won the prize of independence.  In this plaza now stands the Mexican House of Government. If you drive up to Morganton NC, you’ll find newly discovered remnants of Spanish rule in N.C, after the Indians, before the British, before the American Revolution and before the Confederacy and the current United States of America.  The ground underneath our own feet holds a story of empires, coming and going.

There are some modern day prophets of doom who feel that the current American empire is fast approaching destruction or conquest.  They point to the decay of the family, crime, a poor economy, welfare, political corruption, and citizens spoiled by "soft" living.  These are symptoms, they say, of a diseased and dying nation.  "Any nation that can build machines that won't crack up but cannot build men and women who won't crack up is on its way out," someone has stated.  Weekly we read or hear in the news of murders, crime, people pushing the limits of morality, and of pure stupidity or evil, like the husband who forced his wife to have a face lift and then drowned her in the bathtub.  Or like a Congress or Senate who can't get anything done or a Health Care system that seems to be in shambles?   No wonder it takes approximately one million sleeping pills to lull America to sleep each night!  

Yes, kingdoms do rise and fall.  Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Spain, France, England, Germany-they all have had their heyday.  Now it is the Soviet Union that has last fallen and the question is will the final ‘super power’ called the United States be next?  In this world of short-lived kingdoms is there a country, a culture, a people whose values are universal, and whose kingdom will last?  Is there no nation that can be looked to for justice and mercy, love and brotherhood?   Today's Bible text claims to show us a vision of such a kingdom that will last and it reveals one like a human being who will lead it.  It is a kingdom that will never pass away.

WHICH KINGDOM?
Today we’ve come to the second part of Daniel that has been confusing to many.   The first part of Daniel contains hero stories; but this second part contains visions about a coming Kingdom and coming King---who is like no other king who has ever ruled on the face of the earth.   But before we get to the rise of that Kingdom, Daniel gives us strange kingdoms which are symbolized by animal like powers of a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a final beast that is so monstrous, it cannot be expressed any known form.  This fourth beast is ‘exceedingly terribly’ having ‘great iron teeth’, with 10 horns and then grows another.   These Beasts represent great ruling Kingdoms in Daniel’s day,  the kingdoms of the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, and Greece.   Although some Prophecy preachers would include Rome, we can be certain that the most terrible Kingdom in Daniel is “Greece” because it is named so no less than three times (8.21; 10.20; and 11.2).  What is most important for us today, however, is not to get side-tracked in debates about historical or prophetic details.   The aim of Daniel’s vision is to point us toward this Kingdom that ‘never passes away’.   Daniel does not make much of any of these Kingdoms and nor should we, except to draw out attention to the final Kingdom, the one will be determined by the one seated on the heavenly throne.    As the text tells us in verse 7:9 "As I looked thrones were placed, and one that was the Ancient of Days took his seat."  What is still most curious is how this vision of the coming, final, kingdom upsets Daniel, even after he gains an interpretation of it (Compare Daniel 7: 15 with Daniel 7:28).

So, what is it that upsets Daniel so much that his spirit is “troubled” and why does this vision “terrify him”?   Many prophecy preachers today like to scare people with their predictions about the end, but here the prophecy preacher, Daniel himself is the one who is frightened, confused and upset?  Maybe this is what really happens when a preacher tells the truth?  The same kind of thing happened to Isaiah, when the wrote in Isaiah 6:1: "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up."  Right after that Isaiah gets this terrible feeling and cries out, "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" (Isa 6:5 NRS).   When people really see God’s vision for the world, you don’t get excited and shout Hallelujah, but it get a sick feeling and you start feel lost.   That’s is the true burden of telling the truth.

Atop the state capitol building in Philadelphia is a statue of William Penn, the founder of the state of Pennsylvania.  Some years ago the state legislature passed a law saying that no other building in Philadelphia could be built higher than the William Penn statue.  Today that law still stands. In all the city of Philadelphia there is none higher than William Penn!  God's throne is like this, too! High and lifted up! Thrones have always been high and important.  There will always be the thrones of Alexander, Pharaoh, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, and the White House. But none will ever be higher than the Great White Throne of God!  Men strained to lift their thrones to the heavens by building the great tower of Babel, but they failed.  Satan, the fallen angel, even tried saying, "I will ascend to heaven above the stars of God; I will set my throne on high." (Isaiah 14:13). He too has failed.  God’s kingdom is the only Kingdom that is worthy to endure.  All earthly kingdoms will rise and they will fall, including the one where we live.   It’s not what I want to tell you, but it’s what I have to tell you and it makes me feel a queasy about my 401 k right now!   But the truth is the truth----only God's heavenly throne and its surrounding kingdom will exist unconquered and forever!  No Kingdom will endure like God’s

WHO RULES?
Daniel’s vision allows us take an even deeper look at the nature of this kingdom that is built to last.  In verses 13 and 14 it says, "One like a son of man came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom... His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed."  Who is this "human one", this man who receives this kingdom that is built to last?  Who is this “son of man” who comes before God and receives power to rule forever?   In the New Testament, it is Jesus who raises his hands and says, hey, look here this is me!   The “Son of Man” or “Human One” was Jesus’ favorite designation of himself.   This might shock some of you, but Jesus almost called himself “Son of God” (but his friends and enemies did, and he didn’t refute it), but Jesus preferred Daniel’s more visionary title, “Son of Man”.   You can find it as his most important self-designation spread out over all four gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.   In the most interesting passage, Matthew chapter 24, right after Jesus mentions the symbolic ‘desolating sacrilege’ in  Daniel, that is set up by the final earthly rule (Matthew 24:15), Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 24: 30: ““Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see 'the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven' with power and great glory.   And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Mat 24:30-31 NRS).   It is in this moment, that Jesus seems himself, his ministry, and his return as the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy and the one worthy to receive God’s eternal kingdom through his death and resurrection by God’s power.   This throne or right to rule is not given to Jesus because he came to lord over people, but because “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Mar 10:45 NRS)!” Jesus does not earn the kingdom, force the kingdom, nor build the kingdom, but the kingdom is given to him, handed over to him, because he is the only one worthy to rule God’s kingdom that is built to last.

When the Soviet Union fell apart back in 1989, Helmut Kohl, Chancellor of Germany was heard to exclaim, “Marx is Dead, Jesus lives!”  When Daniel envisions the final Kingdom, none of those terrible, monstrous animalistic kingdoms remain.   There is no Babylonian, Median, Perian, Greek or Roman empire left.  There is no Soviet Union, no England, no China nor any United States.   You won’t see any name like Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, or Caesar.  Nor will you see a name like Stalin or Lenin, nor Hitler.  Where is Napoleon? Where are Alexander the Great,  Chairman Mao, or Khrushchev? There is not even a Washington, Churchhill or Lincoln or Kennedy, or Regan.   As Lincoln himself said during the Civil War; “Let’s not pray that God is on our side, but let’s pray that we are on God’s side.”  The hope of the world is not “God bless America”, nor “God’s blessing on Israel, but the hope of the world is when America, Israel, or any other nation, blesses the true God.   Where are the dictators and presidents, the emperors and kings? They have died or they will die. They are in their graves or they will be.  But look here where Jesus Christ is, this one who died, buried, resurrected, and now comes again at the end!   Here he is, standing before God in perfect favor, “this beloved Son in whom he is well pleased”, receiving dominion forever over a kingdom that, as the Bible says, "Shall not pass away, shall not be destroyed."

Steven Crotts, (from whom most of this message originates), says that College students have a habit of writing on bathroom walls. (High school students do too for that matter.)  In one particular bathroom on Emory University's campus there is quite a penciled debate going on as to who will eventually rule the world. "Karl Marx will bring us a new day and a new society'" wrote one thinker. Yet another enthusiast wrote, "Where there Is hope, there's dope." And another, "justice comes from the barrel of a gun." "Dare to struggle, dare to win. Students for a Democratic Society," penciled another radical.   Down low on the wall however, some young rebel had drawn a tiny cross and beside it these words, "Fools, the real revolution began two thousand years ago on Christmas day when a little heavenly lad came down to get God back his ball that sin stole away!" Yes! That's it! The kingdom that lasts belongs to Jesus.  The whole world will not finally be saved until the territory still held by the enemy is returned to its rightful owner.   My friends, the real revolution did not begin under the red star in 1916, nor did it begin under the stars and stripes of America in 1776.  No, the greatest revolution began under the star of Bethlehem.  But humans don’t understand this.   The U.S. Marine emblem shows an American bald eagle holding the world in its claws.   Wrong answer.  The Russians ruble pictures the world with a hammer and sickle struck across it.  Wrong answer again.  According to this text today, it is the “Son of Man”, Jesus, who is the only one who is fit to rule have the world placed into his hands.   

When we were children, we used to sing a song about Jesus and how He ruled the world. Let's sing it now--will you? "He's got the whole world in His hands." HE'S GOT THE WHOLE WORLD IN HIS HANDS. (Repeat 4 times)….. Then we are supposed to sing: HE'S GOT YOU AND ME, BROTHER, IN HIS HANDS and the final phrase goes: HE'S GOT THE KINGS AND THE NATIONS IN HIS HANDS.   I hope you still believe in the words of that childhood song and I hope you sing this last verse too. This world and its kingdoms belong to Jesus.  In this world of political ups and downs, only in Jesus did God’s kingdom come near, and only when it is finally and fully turned over to him, will we have a kingdom that is built to last.

"HOW WILL GOD RULE?"
The only matter left open in the book of Daniel is ‘when’:  When will all people serve him?   When will God finally and fully give the kingdom into the hands of Jesus—the human one?   When will the gospel vision of the “Son of Man coming with clouds and in great power and glory” be fulfilled (Mark 13: 26)?    The book of Daniel ends with a promise that is confusing for us, though was probably clear to Daniel’s first readers, “From the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that desolates is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred ninety days.  Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three hundred thirty-five days…” (12.11-12).  Also, right here, already this 7th chapter, Daniel gives us a calculation for the end using the term “for a time, two times, and half a time” (Daniel 7.25).   

I don’t know about you, but when theologians start given doing math, calculating dates, or giving methods of prophetic interpretation, you had better watch out.  Especially when those dates have long come and gone, and still nothing ‘final’ seems to have happened, someone is going to put their hand on the Bible and declare they have it finally figured out.   But Jesus didn’t do that; at least he said, that not even the “Son” knows the day or the hour and also said, “you don’t know either” (Mark 13: 32-33).  I’m not going claim to know either, but we’ll get to these numbers next week, but for now, let’s focus on what Daniel’s vision tells us early on. He does not get so specific about ‘when’, but he is very specific about ‘how’ God’s final kingdom will come to be established “on earth as it is in heaven.” 

Again, look at verse 14, where Daniel sees in his vision that “To him is given dominion, glory and kingship that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (vs 14a).   Here is a beautiful vision the Book of Revelation will pick up later and adding a vision of a ‘seventh angel’ blowing the final trumpet so that "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever." (Rev 11:15 NRS).  In other passages in Revelation, the same Kingdom is revealed, which will conquer all other kingdoms, not by human might, but by death, suffering, and by the “word of their testimony” through the “blood of the lamb” (Rev. 12: 10-11; 17: 12-15).   Whereas Daniel is speaking of God’s kingdom coming to rule when worldly “Greek powers” come and go; Revelation continues this hope after the worldly “Roman powers” come and go.   In both Daniel and Revelation, the keys to the Kingdom are handed from God to the Son of Man and then finally and fully to the “holy ones of the most high” (Daniel 7:27) who have stood faithful, even though they were “worn out” (Daniel 7.25) or “suffer” (Rev. 2.10) because of the evil powers of this world.   This image of the kingdom being handed over to God’s “saints”, continues in the Book of Revelation, as the 144,000 stand on the holy mountain to rule with their ruler Christ (Rev. 14.1ff).  But who are they, and how does the kingdom finally and fully come through these ‘holy ones of the most high’?

What Daniel and Revelation agree upon is that the Kingdom of God will come finally and fully when it comes from God, ‘the Ancient of Days’ through Christ, ‘the son of man’, and is handed into the hands of God’s faithful people for the saving of the peoples of the whole world.   In other words, the kingdoms of this world do not become God’s kingdom finally and fully, until God’s kingdom is received finally and fully by God’s holy people who serve for the sake of the whole world.  All the way back to Daniel’s vision the “kingdom” comes so that “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”   The kingdom does not come until God’s people are ready to suffer and to serve for the sake of the kingdom and for the whole world.  
Here we need to remember something important that the New Testament echos later, when it says that the end will not come ‘until the gospel of the kingdom is preached throughout the world…. (Matthew 24:14).  In other words, the kingdom does not come until everyone is invited.  It is a Kingdom not just for the ‘holy ones’, but it is a kingdom that is put into the hands of the holy ones for the sake of all peoples, all nations, all languages.  Isn’t that what the Bible means when it says:  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."   God is not the God of Americans only or even Christians only, but He the God of all peoples, nations (which means pagans), and languages.   He is God of Mexicans, the Italians, the Russians, Chinese, and Eskimos. His kingdom is for all and it is handed into the hands of those who trust Christ for the sake of the whole world.   Isn’t this the truth even children sing, when they sing:
JESUS LOVES THE LITTLE CHILDREN,
ALL THE CHILDREN OF THE WORLD.
RED AND YELLOW, BLACK AND WHITE,
THEY ARE PRECIOUS IN HIS SIGHT.
JESUS LOVES THE LITTLE CHILDREN OF THE WORLD.
Several years ago, a pastor was sitting at a banquet table during a Christian conference.   Most of the people present were whites.  A number of black Christians entered and sat down to eat with them. This disturbed a lady sitting next to the pastor and she got up and left.  After the meal the pastor found her sitting on the porch sulking. "I refuse to eat with 'Negroes," she said angrily. "Why?" the pastor asked. They're God's children just like you."  The pastor went into a long conversation about race, the Bible and love. Still she said she'd never, never eat with a 'Negro' Christian. So the pastor turned to the book of Revelation and showed her where God will one day give a great banquet at the end of the world. Jesus will be there along with every Christian who has ever lived. Now, this means that people of all races, social backgrounds and educations will sit and eat with Jesus. "If you don't want to eat with black folks, what are you going to do at that banquet?" the pastor explained: "There's only one other place to go if you refuse to eat with Jesus and his family.  You have to go to Hell!"  (This story was told by Steve Crotts). 

But the question of Daniel’s vision is not only are you a loving Christian, but are you also a serving Christian? Do you love God with all your mind, emotion, will and body, and do you love your neighbor, yourself, earth and the environment which is where the kingdom will be established?  Have you ever given God your mind to think through? Have you given Him your lips to speak with? Have you given Him your hands and feet to work with? Is your career for the glory of God? Or are you indifferent, selfish, and lazy about what God is doing in this world?    

A soldier wanting to have some fun entered a barracks and yelled, "I'll give ten dollars to the laziest man here! All but one fellow jumped up and immediately began to argue how lazy they were. However, that one sleepy recruit still in bed drawled, "Just roll me over and slip the money into my back pocket."  When the church is too much like that young and lazy soldier, the kingdom will never come.  God will not turn his kingdom he gave the life of his son for, into the hands of lazy people like that.  

 Brothers and sisters, I'm afraid that the delay of the kingdom is too much because we too much like that lazy soldier. God has recruited us to fight in His army.  But most of us are sleepy and lazily passing time in our spiritual bunks. We want God's gifts.  We'll take all His benefits!  "Just roll me over and stick your blessings in my back pocket!"  But if we shirk our Christian responsibility to evangelize, to seek justice, to minister to the needs of others, how can God hand the kingdom over to us?   Where not Jesus' last words to His Church” "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  And teach them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt.28).  Need I remind you that this commandment and commission cannot be fulfilled if we are lazy or asleep?  It cannot be fulfilled by lazy half-hearted or selfish believers!   God will only give a Kingdom that lasts to a people who are ready to go to work and whose faith endures because it is built by the very God who has transformed them from snoozers and loosers to workers and winners.  Amen.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

“Not For Sale”

A Sermon Based Upon Daniel 3: 8-30
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
1st Sunday of Epiphany, January12th, 2014
2014 Winter Bible Study Sermon Series, 2/4 

18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up." (Dan 3:18 NRS) "

Carlye Marney, a crusty but insightful Baptist preacher of another time, tells how a friend wanted to buy a gun from the gunsmith who made it.   According to Marney, the gun was an incredible showpiece.  The stock was walnut, inlayed and checkered.  Its intricate design revealed countless hours of hard and detailed handwork.  The bolt was a perfect shape, the receiver was polished to a high sheen, the trigger action smooth, and the barrel was true and straight.  The rifle was a shooter’s delight.   Marney’s friend fell in love with the gun at first sight and wanted desperately to own it. “I’ll buy it,” he declared to the gunsmith.  “Name your price.”  The would-be buyer had plenty of money and could easily afford it, whatever the cost.  But the old man who made it---who had poured years of skill and work into his perfect creation---was not in a mood to sell.  He cradled the beautiful rifle across his arm, looked down on it, and said, “I made if for my own; nobody could buy it; there isn’t anything I would take for it.”  Despite the offers that came, the old gunsmith wouldn’t budge.  The rifle was his and he wouldn’t sell at any price.  Marney’s friend smiled and said rather wistfully, “Everybody ought to have something somewhere that he wouldn’t sell for anything.” (As retold by Bill Ireland in his book on Daniel: Keeping Faith When the Heat Is On, Smyth Helwys, 2012).

Every person ought to have something that is not for sale, not for any price.  Do you have things like that in your life?   How about a healthy marriage?  Are you willing sacrifice to keep your marriage healthy and strong?   How about making time for your children?  Will you take time to do more than what they want, but do things with them that they need to gain lessons for life?   What we should know is that you don’t just ‘get a life’, but you must ‘make a life!’  And to gain such a life also means developing a faith that will sustain you during hard times that will come?   I love what actress Jennifer Lawrence did just before Thanksgiving, as she singlehandedly took on the raging “mean girl” culture of Hollywood, saying that being fair, being kind and caring is what matters most and her values are not for sale to the mean, cruel gods of Hollywood fame and fortune.  Her life is not for sale, at any price.

The most precious gifts of life---things that money can’t buy you can’t have, unless you are willing to sacrifice for them, saying no to some things and saying “yes” to others.  For if you want to have those ‘priceless’ moments and to appreciate the things money can’t buy, you have to say ‘no’ to and ‘not for sale’ to those who would take your most precious gifts away.  Unfortunately, things that should be priceless to people are few and far between today.  People are more than willing to put a price on almost most anything, even spending most of their life away on stuff that really doesn’t matter, rather than the things that matter most.

A case in point is taking time to be face to face with people, especially with our children.  Teresa’s cousin posted online a video of a person’s day; which recorded… most every moment from getting up to going to bed, and most everything in between,…and recorded it all with a cell phone camera.  It all caused the person who recorded to realize what they had missed and not lived, because they recorded it.   You just can’t replace living things life---to recording things.   I used to like amateur photography myself; but now I hardly take pictures at all.  There is a big change when you realize that you can’t take all these ‘pictures’ with you; but you can take only take the experiences.  

Of course, most of you how important experiences are; and how the great moments in life are to be lived, more than recorded, and that we should learn to use gagets, but not allow them to use us.   Unfortunately there are many, who don’t understand this, and don’t realize what they are missing and what kind of world they are creating by allowing technology to control their lives.   And too many parents are spending too little or making no effort whatsoever to connect in a living way with the children they’ve brought into the world; and society is already beginning to pay too big a price for it---a price we don’t want to pay, seeing children and teens act out anger, frustration, violence and self-destructive behavior.   

A couple of years ago, on the way from a doctor’s appointment, my wife and I stopped to eat at a restaurant on the outskirts of Charlotte.   A family of four was sitting in booth next to us.  Both of their children, one older child and the other a teen, where sitting there staring at the walls, while both parents were busy with their smart phones.  Maybe, the parents had just come from work and were only checking their emails, but I’m afraid it was much worse than that.  I’m afraid to tell you there was little or no conversation going on between them the entire time.  Think about what they were missing.  Think about how quickly those children would grow up.  Think about the memories they were not making together.  Think about how empty the lives of the children and the lives of the parents were going to become.  They were selling their souls for the sake of a mess of technological pottage.  

While they should have treated this time together as ‘priceless’ or ‘sacred’ and teaching their children what was most important, instead they were teaching the importance of the wrong things.  Those parents were unwilling and unprepared to say this time together ‘not for sale’, and is non-negotiable for any price.  In the third chapter of Daniel, we have a story about three Hebrews, who became heroes in Israel, not simply because they said “yes” to God, but also because they said “no”---not for sale to the world around them.   Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego resisted king Nebuchadnezzar’s demand to have their souls and to negotiate their faithfulness to what is most important in their lives.  As the gospel song says, they wouldn’t bend, they wouldn’t bow, and as a result, they didn’t burn.   A lot of pressure was put on them to conform to what everyone else was doing, but they wouldn’t and they didn’t negotiate their faith and their life.  

THE PRESSURE TO CONFORM
We all know that we live in a time of individuality, where people can express themselves, and be who they want to be, but the truth is that the name of the game in our world is really conformity and uniformity.  Think about how people follow trends, fads, and want what everyone else has.   There is something in the human being that wants to belong and to find our identity with others, instead of letting God define who we are within ourselves and our own unique gifts. 

Nebuchadnezzar wanted everyone in his empire to conform to his standards for his own reasons.   He wanted everyone to worship just like him.  He want’s everyone to serve him.  He wanted his whole nation to be under his spell, within his power and to be nothing more than ‘clones’ of each other.   And Nebuchadnezzar had the ability to put the pressure on.  Anyone who did not comply would die.    Can you remember when the Gulf War started?   Millions of people across America were praying desperately for the men and women in harm's way. Saddam Hussein of Iraq was convinced that he was so powerful he could snatch up tiny Kuwait and no one would dare do anything about it.  In fact, he warned that if any nation tried to stop him, there would be "the mother of all battles." Thankfully, it turned out to be not even the daughter of all battles.

Saddam Hussein's enlarged ego affected his judgment, costing the Iraqi people severely. It is interesting that Saddam often referred to himself as a modern successor to King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient Babylon.  Saddam in his delusions of grandeur talked about building a kingdom as great and as extensive as ancient Babylon.  But Saddam's ancient model, Nebuchadnezzar, had an ego problem too.   He authorized the construction of a statue of gold, presumably of himself.  It was 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide.   When you consider that the Statue of Liberty is just 130 feet tall, you can get some idea of what a huge statue it was. It stood on the plain of Dura which was just south of the modern city of Baghdad. No doubt it could be seen for miles.  It was a feat of ancient architecture, but this statue was nothing more than the glorification of the ‘self’ of one single person.   It was in some ways similar to one of those communist leader paintings we have seen in the former Soviet Union, in China, and now still see in North Korea.  It is in a way saying, “I am more than a god,” because the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob refused to be glorified in any ‘graven image’ at all.   Also, it is interesting to note how Nebuchadnezzar knew the power of music. Have you ever noticed that the Bible is full of music?  Music is a God-given medium which has enormous power, for good or evil.   Let me give you a quotation and you guess who said it.  Here is the quotation: "Let me write the music of a nation and I will determine its morals." Who said that? Was it Thomas Jefferson, Irving Berlin, Elvis Presley?   No, it was Adolph Hitler?  He wrote that in his book, "Mein Kampf."

But this story in Daniel is more than just a warning about what music we listen to or the negative power of human egos that are out of control.   The real problem is that through music and because of an enlarged ego, Nebuchadnezzar wants to force conformity and worship among his people.  He not only wants his people’s money, but he wants their hearts and souls.  The empire of Nebuchadnezzar is about ‘control’ and it is about the ‘glorification’ of a “Head of State” at the expense of a people and to the neglect of the true God who saves, redeems and praised through the good of the leader and the people.   This selfish and egotistical  desire of Nebuchadnezzar suddenly makes the Hebrew boys, who had been acknowledge as some ‘good guys’ who were made administrators to serve and help the nation, now understood to be the ‘bad’ guys, because they will not conform to Nebuchadnezzar’s new standards.   But these Hebrew children refused to worship the golden statue as they were commanded.  They would rather die than break the second commandment---“You shall not make for yourself an idol...You shall not bow down to them or worship them." (Exodus 20:04).

THE POWER TO STAND OUT
As I was planning this message, back in November 2013, there was an interesting story about a family in New Haven, who bought a used desk off Craigslist for less than 200 hundred dollars.  When they got the desk home, and opened it up, hidden inside one of the draws was $98 thousand dollars.  Interestingly, when they were showing the desk on T.V., I saw some middle east script on a book that was on the desk.   It turns out the family were Jewish.   The father who bought the desk returned the money to the family who owned the desk, saying that it being honest was far more important than gaining 98k dollars.   Hello!  That man knew what it takes to ‘stand out’ in a money crazy world.

Daniel’s friends stood out because they resisted the King’s command to bow down to his statue.   This ancient story begs us to consider anew, in our own time:  What is the non-negotiable in our lives?   How does our God-given individuality and our unswerving devotion to God make a difference in how we live and who we are?  Is there something you will not negotiate?  Are there parts of your life and soul that are not for sale?  How important is it, to have something in us, about us, which belongs to no one, except to God and God alone?  

In the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great pastor and theologian of the German Confessing Church during WWII, we meet a person who would not negotiate his stance on Hitler, even though his country did not agree, at first.   Most everyone in his country and some in America too were supporting Hitler’s dream of the Third Reich.   When war finally broke out with Nazi Germany, Bonhoeffer was in the United States and some of his friends were begging him to stay here until the war was over.  They wanted to protect him, for surely he was a gifted Christian.  But Bonhoeffer could not stay.  His responsibility to his homeland was not for sale.  Bonhoeffer knew what Hitler was doing was wrong, and he also knew what he had to do, because he had written in an earlier book about Christian discipleship, that "When Christ calls a man (sic), He bids him come and die."  Bonhoeffer returned to Germany, refusing to conform and dance to Hitler’s hypnotizing music of a perfect German world, and joined the Christian underground against Hitler.  He refused to believe in the Kingdom of Hitler because he believed only in the coming Kingdom of God.  

After being arrested for being involved in a plot to kill Hitler, Bonhoeffer was in a prison awaiting execution.   But during this time alone, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote something which perfectly describes the kind of decisions we Christians face in our world, in our own Babylon, when the world tries to pull us away from our allegiance to Christ and to an make our allegiance to something else. These are his words:  “We always used to think that it was one of the inalienable rights of man (sic) that he should be able to plan his life in advance….. This is a thing of the past. ……But it makes all the difference in the world whether we accept this willingly and in faith…… or under compulsion. We are still left with the narrow way, ……..of living each day as if it were our last, yet living as though a great future still lay before us.”

How do we find the determination to live for God’s kingdom, and not the kingdoms of this world; whether they be personal, national, or spiritual?  How do we gain the power to stand out?  Is this not our calling and great challenge; to live each day as if it were our last, while at the same time, we live as though God has a future for us and the world?   The truth is that world is always against us, asking us to conform to its standards; to the things humans have made; and to the selfish desires of individual human want.  But what matters most, to us and to this world, is not what we can put together, but God has given and can give to us.  The greatest things in life are gifts from God, not things we can create, make or manufacture.  If we allow the world to ‘squeeze us into its mold and way of thinking, we will be lesser and smaller people; but if we will allow God truth to be our truth; then, we can gain the power to rise above the mediocrity and blandness of this world; and become a people who not only stand out, but who also stand up, and are counted of worth and value to God. 

We have seen in our time the rise of tattoos and body piercing as expressions of human identity.  One of the girls who was kidnapped in Ohio, was interviewed by Dr. Phil, and she had rings in her lip and in her nose, and do you know what she said?  “These are signs of my new found freedom!”  You had to feel for her; being treated less an animal for over 10 years.  God bless her!  Those nose rings were signs of new found independence, as well as, signs of deep and inward pain.   But what we also know is that a human person does not have to wear tattoos or body piercing to show our independence, but we are already made different, individual, ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ as the Psalmist says, and we are made to be “free to be in Christ.”  The more we show our devotion to Christ in our hearts, the less we need to show signs of our freedom.  It is the truth that makes us free.  And God’s truth is something we already have from the inside out because of what Christ has done in showing God’s unconditional love for us.   Now, we are free to be anything we can be in Christ!   We don’t have to conform to this world, but we can be ‘transformed’ by the ‘renewing of our minds’ and our hearts, through God’s unending, unceasing, relentless love that forces nothing on us, but makes us free to be and become our fullest, best potential because of being loved, rather than being used.   Because ‘perfect love’ cast out all fear, we can have the power to stand out.

THE PROMISE OF FAITHFULNESS
I've got one final question for you this morning.   Does anybody know how old the lowly marshmallow is?  Do you think it is 50 years old? 100 years? Maybe 200 years?  Would you believe the marshmallow was around before 1942,  when “Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and discovered America?   Interestingly, there's a very real possibility that Jesus, Mary and Joseph might have actually eaten marshmallows while they were in exile in Egypt.  For you see, historians estimate that the marshmallow came into being over 4000 years ago.

Some historians claim marshmallows got their name when Pharaohs discovered that by squeezing the mallow plant a sweet, sticky substance surfaced.   Those mallow plants grew  wild in marshes (that’s why they are called “marshmallows” even though modern ones are more like “mushmallows”).   Honey was flavored with the extract from these plants. The delicacy was so special it was reserved for gods or royalty alone.  Marshmallows were introduced in France in the mid 1800s, in small candy stores.  Doctors used the marshmallow to cook and hardened to create a medicinal candy that was used to soothe children's sore throats, suppress coughs, and help heal minor cuts, scrapes, and burns.

Consumers liked the marshmallow's unique texture and taste so much that candy makers needed a way to make marshmallows faster.  That’s how they came up with a "starch mogul" system that was developed in the late 1800s.  This system allowed marshmallows to be made in 24 to 48 hours.   Today, modern marshmallows are made of corn starch (like jelly beans). Today's marshmallows don't actually include any mallow; as they are a combination of corn syrup, corn starch, sugar, and gelatin.   Trying to speed up the process, in 1848, a man named Alex Doumak came up with a revolutionary process called the "extrusion” which involved pumping the marshmallow mixture through long pipes and cutting it into the shape we are familiar with today.  In the early 1950's the "jet-puffed" process was developed. This process infuses air into the marshmallow giving it a lighter, fluffier texture.  Today, extruded, jet-puffed marshmallows can be cooked, cooled, formed, bagged, and packed in just 60 minutes.  Marshmallows are available around the world but are only made by three companies. Americans purchase more than 95 million pounds of marshmallows annually.

Why all this talk about marshmallows?  Well, in this story we’re talking about a big fire. And if there's going to be a big fire, you want to make sure somebody brings the marshmallows. The fire we're talking about is the one in the fiery furnace where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, could have been toast, but might have roasted marshmallows instead.   A miracle like this has been etched in popular minds.  It is really amazing how many times this event has been put to music.   There are Bluegrass versions, a Jazz version, a blues version, 2 Raggae versions, about 5 Gospel music and several Contemporary Christian music versions, a version done by the Beastie Boys, and of course, my favorite, Johnny Cash's version of “Fourth Man In The Fire” where he sings: "They didn't bow, they didn't bend, they didn't burn."

THEY DIDN'T BOW:   You see the Chaldeans didn't like the fact that these Jews got the breaks and the favored positions. So, they waited and plotted and then the time came. Nebuchadnezzar built the golden idol in the areas where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego where government administrators; but still, they didn't bow.  The Chaldeans couldn't wait to tell the King how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego didn’t bow down and worship the idol.  It was all petty, nasty and slimy politics.  Still, they didn’t bow, so the King had to deal with it.
THEY DIDN'T BEND:  There in the court they were offered a second chance.  But they didn't bend.  This made Nebuchadnezzar angry. How dare they contest his authority? And even though they were favored by the king, they couldn't escape the King's wrath.  Now, he was really going to throw them into the Fiery Furnace.   But still, they didn't bow and they didn't bend.  They told the King that God could save them, but even if God didn't, it wouldn't change their own love for God.
THEY  DIDN’T BURN: All that did was stoke the King's anger. So he stoked the fire in the furnace seven times hotter than normal.   But to everybody's surprise, when the king looked in the fiery furnace they were still alive. They didn't bow they didn't bend, they didn't burn.

But not only that, but there was someone else with them.  Someone who had the appearance of a god greater than Nebuchadnezzar and all other human political powers.  Because this ‘angelic’, ‘god-like’, or more than physical figure, was with them, when they opened the door of the furnace, nothing was harmed, not their clothes, not their shoes, not even a hair on their head was singed.  They didn't even smell like smoke.  If you know anything about Barbecue, you know that it doesn’t take much smoke, to smell like smoke.   All of this is to explain just how miraculous, otherworldly, and different it all turned out.   They didn't bow, they didn't bend, they didn't burn and it all turned out different, because these Hebrew children were different.   In the end, Nebuchadnezzar had to call them by their ‘testimony’ to get them to come out of the fire, as his command praises the true God saying,  “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,  servants of the Most High God, come out!  Come here!?”  Then we are told that Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed that he declared that if anyone, anywhere ever says anything against their God, they will be punished severely because there has never been another god who rescue like that.

So, what does this story tell us?   I think it has one big message. No matter what we face in life, no matter how hot the heat is put on us, or what kind of pressure cooker we find ourselves put into, we are not alone, God is with us.  If we will remain faithful to him, he will remain faithful to us.  If we will be willing to be different in the world; then things can and will turn out different for us.   You don’t have to tell me, I know that everyone who trusts God is not spared the destructive powers of this world.   Jesus wasn’t.    The prophets and the apostles weren’t always rescued either.  This is why those Hebrew children said in faith to Nebuchadnezzar: “Our God is able to rescue…. BUT IF HE DOESN’T, KNOW THIS FOR CERTAIN, YOUR MAJESTY: WE WILL NEVER SERVE YOUR GODS OR WORSHIP THE GOLD STATUE YOU’VE SET UP.”  (3:18).  The main issue isn't whether we'll always be spared the flames of life or whether God will keep us from suffering.   That's not really what’s being suggested in this story.  Jesus even said that we can expect to feel the heat. "In this world you will have trouble....but have faith, for I have overcome the world."   And Jesus didn’t ‘overcome’ by escaping the pain, but by going through it.   Thus, the biblical faith we are called to have is this: God doesn't promise to take us out of the flames and the fires of life, but God promises to be right there with us, smack dab in the middle of the flames and the fire; and he will get us through to the other side---because He is with us in Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, there is such thing as a life that is truly “fireproof”.   That’s a myth.  Accepting Christ doesn't give us fire insurance from to escape the ‘hells’ of this world.  But it does give us a promise to escape the unending fire and it is a promise to know God’s presence in whatever situation we find ourselves. In other words, we can have a fireproof faith!   This is the faithfulness of God that fueled the 'fireproof faith" of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and it should be the ‘faithfulness’ that can ‘fuel’ our faith as well.  For you see, it really didn't matter to them whether they were rescued by God or not. They already belonged to God.  Their “faith” was the only thing they needed to know for “certain” (3:18, CEB).  In an ‘uncertain’ world what they knew for certain what Paul knew:  “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ” (Romans 8: 38-39).   With this kind of faith ‘for certain’ nothing would cause them to renounce their faith: no decree, no 90 foot golden idol, no king, not even the threat of death in the fiery furnace.  They were faithful because God is faithful.  God was present with them as the guest in the furnace.  God was the “fourth man” in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  They didn't bow, they didn't bend, they didn't burn!

The fires of life are going to happen, so let the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, be your Fourth Man in the midst of the fires of life.  When are thrown from the frying pan into the fire; when your life feels like it's caught in the cross fire and you're facing another baptism by fire, remember: are not alone, and of course, don’t forget the marshmallows.  Amen.



Sunday, January 5, 2014

“FOOD FIGHT”

Daniel 1: 1-21
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, Pastor
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Epiphany Sunday,  January 5, 2014
2014 Winter Bible Study Sermon Series, 1/4 

In 2013, the IOC, or the International Olympics committee, voted out its oldest sport.  Starting in 2020, it said would be NO MORE WRESTLING  (That ruling has since been overturned).  The reason they made this decision?  TV ratings.  The sport does not score high enough on the Associated Press TV rating scale.  It does not sell enough tickets.  So, in these days when everything is run by dollars and cents, Wrestling doesn’t make good financial sense.   Even though wrestling was older than the Olympics, for now, it does not have a future. 

I find the ‘end’ of wrestling at the Olympics as rather ironic.  While interest in ‘real’ wrestling is fading, fake wrestling, that is, wrestling born at the circus or SIDESHOW, is a billion dollar business.  People want a form of wrestling that is more predictable, more dramatic, and more sensational, and less real, perhaps somewhat more entertaining, like Sumo Wrestlers.    By the way, there is a wrestling joke about a SUMO WRESTLER, a Scotsman, and an Englishman.   They were all preparing to commit suicide, perhaps due to too many head injuries or concussions.   The Scotsman jumps out the window and screams, “God save Scotland!”   Then, the Englishman jumps, and he shouts, “God save the Queen!”  Finally, the Sumo Wrestler jumps, and in a loud voice says, “God save the person I land on!” That’s certainly the kind of comic relief that real wrestling just can’t give!

Perhaps wrestling represents the ‘fight’ to keep on living, even when the odds can be very much against us.  PAUL EMPLOYED THE ‘WRESTLING’ IMAGE when he spoke about the ongoing struggle of good versus evil which never ends:  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Eph 6:12-13 KJV).   Near the close of the Paul’s life, he again used this image of ‘fighting’ again, yet in a much more personal way.  Paul wrote to Timothy: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.   From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2Ti 4:7-8 NRS). 

For Paul and for us, in our changing world, KEEPING THE FAITH CAN MEAN LEARNING TO HAVE A ‘GOOD FIGHT’.   It was much the same for Daniel, the hero of faith from which the biblical book gets its name.   The book of Daniel opens with a DRAMA WHICH INCLUDES A ‘FOOD’ FIGHT.  It’s not the kind of ‘food fight’ we are most familiar with---people picking up food and throwing it at each other across the table, but it’s a ‘food fight’ where Daniel and his Jewish friends are using the refusal of a king’s food as their choice of weapon against the cultural challenge of living in a world of pagan exile.  Food is being used to fight ‘a good fight’ against changing times, against changing cultural realities and against changing social, political and religious situations that challenged their faithful way of life.

THE FIGHT IN US
Because Daniel writes about changing times and cultural threats, Daniel’s story ought to gain our attention too.  FEW BOOKS IN THE HEBREW BIBLE will GRAB US LIKE DANIEL.   Because we see so much of our own situation in Daniel, it has become a book a lot of people like to ‘fight’ over with heated discussions over the proper INTERPRETATION.     I would like to suggest that much of the fighting over Daniel is much closer to the ‘fake’ fighting or wrestling which should be rejected, versus THE ‘REAL’ FIGHT THAT IS ACTUALLY GOING ON in this book and in our world today.

THE BOOK OF DANIEL IS WRITTEN IN TWO PARTS.  It begins with 6 hero stories and concludes with 4 visions that point to God’s purposes being worked out in a changing world.   THIS FIRST CHAPTER STARTS WITH AND ENDING---the end and exile of the Jewish nation of Judah around 587 BCE.  It is within this context of exile that we are introduced to Daniel and his friends (v.6), who are rather elite and ‘endowed’ youth (v. 4) being “educated” (vs. 5) and exposed to the best Babylon has to offer.  The response of Daniel to this opulent culture opens us to the heart of the spiritual ‘fight’ that begins in chapter one, verse 8: “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s rich food, or with the wine which he drank;…”    

The text plainly says that DANIEL DOES NOT WANT TO ‘DEFILE’ HIMSELF with ‘the king’s rich food’.     This word ‘defile’ is a very old religious word meaning to pollute, profane, or to spoil.   But it is not the simply the ‘rich’ food or drink which Daniel is worried about spoiling him, but Daniel is much more worried about how this king’s food may threaten his faith and his faith community.  Daniel has decided not to eat the King’s food not because the food was bad for him, but because eating the food might MAKE HIM START TO FORGET GOD.  By refusing to eat the King’s rich food, Daniel is EXPRESSING HIS HOPE for the future of God’s people.

Daniel’s refusal of food is first and foremost AN ACT OF RESISTANCE TO THE DOMINATE CULTURE.  This might sound strangely familiar today.   In our own world people are often called to RESIST AND RISE ABOVE POPULAR VIEWPOINTS, past PREJUDICES, political DIFFERENCES or religious EXTREMISM.   In the realm of food, we hear often about people GOING ON DIETS to improve their health or their image.   There are TV shows based solely on what we should or shouldn’t eat for our health’s sake.  I’ll never forget setting in a Restaurant in Elkin late one evening, eating ‘fast food’ and then looking up and to see what was on television.  It was the show, “The Biggest Loser”.   It was funny to me, at that time, but also interesting.  Here I was watching a show about how someone was fighting a battle over food in a fast food restaurant.   And the whole kind of TV was something brand new, called ‘reality TV’.   The ‘reality’ was that SOMEONE WAS FIGHTING FOR THEIR LIFE and right at the center of the battle was food.  Daniel and his friends too, were going on a kind of diet which was more spiritual than it was physical, but it was a diet, that by resisting the king’s food, would remind them of who they were.

But what WAS THE EXACT NATURE OF DANIEL’S FIGHT?  And why did Daniel draw the battle line where he did?  Technically, even religiously, DANIEL COULD HAVE EATEN the Kings food.  There was nothing in Jewish law which directly forbade him.  In the Law of Moses and “KOSHER” food was part of what distinguished Israel from other people, but the Israelites were NOT GIVEN SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS AGAINST EATING ‘RICH FOOD’ nor were they told not to drink wine, except for certain cleansing or dedication ceremonies.   On the contrary, God told the people that at certain times they should celebrate with food.   

So WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?   Why doesn’t Daniel just give in and eat a little?   Why does he choose not to do as the apostle Paul suggested, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it to the glory of God.”  Why didn’t Daniel just go ahead and eat and whisper a prayer of thanks to his own understanding of God?  What is going on?   Had Daniel took his stand for the sake of preserving his Kosher diet, we might have missed the point.  For certainly, what is going on here is more than just a personal diet choice, an observance of a religious fast, or even a simple act of faithfulness to God.   DANIEL HAS PICKED KING NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S ‘RICH’ MENU AND WINE SELECTION AS HIS BATTLE LINE and his choice of weapon TO SAY ‘NO’ to everything that was happening to his people.   Daniel is using his own discipline as HIS DEFENSE AGAINST THE WORLD THAT HAS CHANGED around him, which is threatening the very existence of God’s people.   He is fighting the ‘good FIGHT’ FOR THE FUTURE OF HIS PEOPLE.  He is not simply living or acting for what he can do today, but he is living for what he believes will come, if God’s people keep their faith.  This is why we call this story A ‘HERO’ STORY.   Daniel has decided with his own elite status, to put, as the saying goes, his own ‘dog’ in this fight in hopes to inspire the faith of his people.  

THE FIGHT OF OUR LIVES
WILL YOU PUT UP A FIGHT AGAINST THE WORLD that always threatens the people of God?  And if you do, WHAT WILL BE YOUR WEAPON OF CHOICE?   Will it be WHAT YOU EAT or don’t eat?  Will it be WHAT YOU WEAR or don’t wear?  Will it be the KIND OF CAR you drive, the house you live in, the KIND OF CHILDREN you raise, or the KIND OF PEOPLE YOU HANG WITH?   Will it be how you spend your time and what you put on YOUR LIST OF PRIORITIES?  What weapon will you choose to fight against the things that the culture of the world can take away?   Will you learn how to ‘pick you battles’ and “resist” some of the things that may be acceptable in today’s culture, but not acceptable to the purposes of God and his coming kingdom?

The Book of Daniel is about the ‘fight’ we need to keep fighting.  We have to ‘fight’ because this is not just a physical struggle, but we also live in a world, where Scripture says, we “are wrestling not against flesh and blood, but against ‘WICKEDNESS IN HIGH PLACES.’  If we don’t put up a fight, we can lose.  There is little space for those try to live in-between or in both ‘worlds’.  WE ARE IN THIS FIGHT AND WHETHER WE WANT TO FACE UP TO IT OR NOT, we will be either winners or losers, givers or takers, lovers or haters, end up being compassionate or being hostile.  So, if you give up the fight, you don’t just float along with ease, but you END UP STRANDED OR WORSE, SURROUNDED BY A SEA OF SHARKS.  To be born in this world puts you right in middle of the ‘ring’ of an ongoing fight.   Whether it is about your health, your rights, your dreams, your beliefs or your opinions, you must put up some kind of ‘good’ fight.   If you choose not to fight the good fight, but you get beat up.  You will suffer the consequences of doing nothing.   You might think, I don’t care what happens, but there are all kinds of people who do care, and what they care about can destroy what you care about. 

How many of you remember the HOLLYWOOD MOVIE, CHARIOTS OF FIRE?  It is a story told about a Scotsman, a very talented athletic Scotsman, who refused to run a track race on Sunday.  That Scotsman came from a missionary family and was going to be a missionary himself.   He was a going to be a missionary, but he was also a very talented athlete.  But when the Olympic committee decided to hold a race on Sunday, he refused to run in it.  This was against his faith and against his belief that Sunday should be a ‘Sabbath’ ‘day of rest’.   Such a faith sounds strange to many people today, especially to those who’ve never understand Sunday this way.   It was also strange to many then.  People urged him to go ahead and run.  The athletic committee could not understand why he refused his chance to prove himself.  Other athletes were also confused about the matter.   But Eric Liddell refused to run in that race and it made a big impact on people, especially when he went on to medal in another race.   Then, people saw Eric Liddell not just as a great athlete, but as a great person of principle, ethics and faith.  It was something many people had either left behind or still wished they had, but it was something Eric Liddell still made real in the choices of in his own life.

In a world that will fall for most anything, HERE WAS A MAN WHO ‘STOOD FOR SOMETHING’.  But Liddell was doing much more than ‘standing’ for something, he was also creating something.  HE WAS CREATING THE KIND OF PLACE where a person lived for more than their own wants and wishes.   He was living toward a world that still maintained a sacred space of God.  When Eric Liddell refused to run on Sunday, he was DEFINING WHO GOD WAS AND WHO HE WAS TO GOD.  If Eric Liddell had run on that day, he would have cheapened and lessened his life in God and eventually, it his life in God would have made no difference at all.  

This is also PART OF THE REASON DANIEL WOULD NOT EAT THE KING’S FOOD.  He could have eaten the food, just as Eric Liddell could have run on Sunday.   He and his friends could have enjoyed the freedom they had, but what they would have also done was lessened the value of God in their lives, and this would have also CHEAPENED their own lives, and who knows what other dangers and downfalls would have followed.   By drawing the line with food, Daniel was saying that FAITH WAS ALIVE AND WELL IN HIM, and this gave him and his PEOPLE GREAT COURAGE to survive and thrive in a pagan world. 


THE FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES
Psychologists, working with young people, discovered AN INTERESTING TRUTH several years ago.  Contemporary thought ASSUMED THAT FENCES ON PLAYGROUNDS MADE THE CHILDREN FEEL RESTRICTED in their recreation. A consensus was then reached TO REMOVE THE FENCES so children wouldn't feel confined.  Guess what? The opposite effect occurred. Researchers found that the children became more inhibited with their activities. They tended to huddle towards the middle of the playground and exhibited signs of insecurity. WHEN THE FENCES WERE REPLACED, THE CHILDREN PLAYED WITH GREATER ENTHUSIASM and freedom.  They needed to know have their own space well-defined.

The truth is the same for all of us.   WE NEED TO DEFINE WHO WE ARE AND WHO WE AREN’T and we need to LIVE WITHIN THOSE BOUNDARIES.   This means that we can’t live life to its fullest by saying ‘yes’ to everything.   WE ALSO NEED TO LEARN TO SAY ‘NO’.   We need to DEFINE THE LIMITS of what is safe, secure and sacred.  Such sacred boundaries of CHOOSING WHAT WE WILL DO AND NOT DO, don't really limit our freedom, but boundaries give a sense of freedom and provide a promise for the future. 

The Yiddish novelist ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER (1904–1991) was born in Poland to an observant Jewish family and moved to America in 1935 to escape Hitler’s rise to power. His prolific legacy captures the lost world of Eastern European Jewish life and the trials and triumphs of American Jewish immigrants. His work is permeated with reflections on God, mysticism, and the spiritual world. REFLECTING ON THE POWER OF BIBLICAL STORIES, Singer finds that their EMPHASIS ON WHAT PEOPLE DO, rather than what they think or feel, has an important lesson for humankind when facing modern dilemmas. Singer reflects,
           You are what you act. . . .
The Almighty does not require good intentions. Deeds are what counts
           . . . . If you are in despair, act as though you believed. Faith will come afterward. . . .
          Although I’ve read other books and admire them, too, the Bible, the Talmud, the Torah, I admire even more so. They not only tell me a story but really tell me how to live and how to behave.    (As quoted in a commentary on “Daniel”, by Sharon Pace, Smyth and Helwys, 2008, p. 42).

The ‘fight’ for our lives today is not any less than a fight for what we believe, who we are, and what kind of world we want to see realized.  But THIS ‘FIGHT’ FOR GOD’S WORLD does not strike a blow against the negative forces of our world UNLESS WE BEHAVE AND ACT DIFFERENTLY.    What we believe must be backed up with obedience, with duty, with action and deeds.   DANIEL’S ACTION AGAINST THE WORLD AROUND HIM was expressed IN FOREGOING THE RICHES OF THE KINGS TABLE.   By refusing to eat from that table, DANIEL WAS STAKING HIS PLACE AT THE TABLE IN THE KINGDOM STILL TO COME and he had just begun the fight.   Isn’t this also what the Christian life is supposed to be, a fight---a fight for our families, a fight for what is good, and fight for keeping our faith until the very end?  Amen.    


QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
1.      In what ways is our culture changing and how is it threatening the church as the people of God?
2.     As you consider Daniel’s refusal of some of the King’s luxuries, there were other ‘pagan’ rites and rituals which Daniel not only tolerated, but participated with, such as learning the language and receiving an education.  How does Daniel’s own choices of what to resist and what not to resist say to us?  
3.     Some in our time have decided to resist the ‘world’ by resisting public education; do you see this as a good move?  Why or why not?   What do you think Daniel gained in this ‘pagan’ education?
4.     How ‘public’ was Daniel’s resistance and what does his approach say about his witness and ours?
5.     What did Daniel and his friends gain through their refusal of the Kings table?  What do we gain when we refuse certain luxuries which are afforded us by the ‘riches’ of our own world?


TEXTUAL NOTES ON Chapter 1

1.1  The third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim”  (606 BC) may not be exact,  since it does not precisely correspond with the Babylonian record (605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar was still in Syria in 606) or the date in Jeremiah 25.1, which says it was the ‘fourth year’.   The author of Daniel may have been using a Jewish rather than Babylonian date, which were based different calendars.   This is why dates from the ancient world are seldom accurate, but only approximate.

1.1King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.”  Jerusalem was actually destroyed in 597,      B.C.E. under the rule of Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin.  It was a process that lasted several years.   
A fuller account of the destruction of Jerusalem can be found in 2 Kings 24.10-12ff.  

1.2  “The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power.”   Daniel reminds us that this was not according to God’s purposes, but it was according to Israel’s sin that Jerusalem is destroyed.  

1.2.  “The land of Shinar” is an ancient name for Babylon (Gen. 10.10). 

1,3  “Without physical defect and handsome” or ‘flawless’ is priestly language of Leviticus 21: 17ff., referring to animals fit for sacrifice. 

1.4  “Chaldeans” refers to the Neo-Babylonian peoples who were educated in astrology and magic and spoke Aramaic, the trade language of the day.  This was the language which the Jews spoke when they returned and also the language of Jesus.  

1.5 “Portion” from and old Persian word meaning “government-supplied food or ration”.   (2 Kings 25:30, Jer. 52.34).

1.5   “educated for three years” also fit Persian record which say, “for a period of three springtides he shall gird himself with the holy education”  (From Sacred books of the East, 2nd ed, 4:31ff), thus this was more religious training than what we consider a secular education and still coincides with the normal time of seminary education for pastor’s today.

1.7  “The palace master gave them other names…..”   The names given to Daniel and his friends correspond to Babylonian deities, Bel, Marduk, and Nabu.

1.12  “for ten days”  is a common period for a spiritual test in that time and they prove to be ‘ten times better’ (1.20).

1.14  “appeared better and fatter”  Being fat was a sign of health in the ancient world, contrary to medical research today.

1.17  “God gave knowledge and skill”.   In the ancient world purification was a way to approach the deity and obtain favor, but in this case the “knowledge and skill” came as a gift of God.

1.20  “Magicians” is from an Egyptian word referring perhaps linking this story with the story of Joseph (Gen. 41.8) and Moses (Exodus 7.11).  “Enchanters” is from Akkadian (Mesopotamian language in Persia), meaning ‘incantation priest’ (one who is able to cast a spell) which properly links the story to its Babylonian context  (See Daniel 2.2, 4.7, 5.7).

1.21  “Until the first year of Cyrus” (538 BCE) means that Daniel served in royal court from 606 until 539, which is a considerable 68 years.  Jeremiah predicted the exile would last 70 years (25.11).





OUTLINE FOR STUDY OF DANIEL 1

1.      OPENING:    Spend some time in discussion about ‘changes’ in the world and in the church during your lifetime.  Make sure that you DISCUSS SOME AREA OF ‘SECULARIZATION’ of American society  (Like no Prayer or Bible Reading).

2.     DID DEEPER.   READ Daniel 1 in its entirety.    Have them write down any questions which they have about the flow of the story.    ANSWER: WHERE is the setting of this story: (Babylon)?   Time: WHEN does this take place?  (During Exile).  WHO are the main characters (Daniel and his friends)?  WHAT is the main issue in the story (Daniel’s decision not to eat the kings food (vs. 8)?  Finally, HOW?  How does this story point out a challenge for God’s people? (How to deal with Change, Oppression, Exile).

3.     MAKE IT REAL:   Share about the “Food Fight” and our “Good Fight” for the faith in our own time.   After the brief lecture, allow students to BREAK UP IN GROUPS OF 4 and list and share their own challenges to keep the faith and resist the world in the changing times of our secular culture.  Let them SUMMARIZE AND REPORT TO MAIN GROUP.   They could list things like: Being Faithful to Worship when others don’t go to church.   They could speak about resisting luxuries that spoil others.  They could also talk about not letting the world define who they are or trying to fight against certain negative trends (in human behavior, secular politics, and religious practice) .

4.     ANY QUESTIONS:  Many Christians today resist “Babylon” by sending their children to private or Christian schools.   The Amish resist Babylon by speaking their own language.   Why do you think Daniel not resist the ‘education’ or ‘language’ of Babylon?   What does this say about how you ‘pick your battles’ to fight for the faith in our own world?   Where do you draw the line and what helps you know where and when to draw that line? (Perhaps when it effects your children, your marriage, you prayer life, etc).

GET READY: For your preparation for next week, Read Daniel 2 -6.   We will primarily be considering chapter 3 in our discussion.