Friday, January 29, 2016

A different way to live as a Christian in a post-Christian culture

I love the book of Daniel. Always have. It has some of the most exciting stories many of us grew up learning. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the blazing furnace. Daniel in the lions den. 

It also has some really confusing stuff. The kings of Babylon have crazy, outlandish dreams that mean something and come true. A had appears and writes bad news in some weird language. And then there's all the apocrophal stuff that folks have been arguing over for years.

As I was reading through Daniel this morning, however, I had a thought. I think book of Daniel shows us how to live out our faith in a culture that is post-Christian, anti-Christian and not-interested-in-anything-Christian.

And what we learn is in direct contrast to how many of us are living in our current culture.

Take chapter 1. Daniel resolves not to defile himself with the king's food and wine. He doesn't condemn the king's food and wine. He just makes a decision to not defile himself, and he's willing to suffer the consequences of that decision. He never judges the chief official. He doesn't say it's wrong for others to eat and drink the king's food and wine. He know's it's wrong for him and he lives out his faith. And God rewards him greatly.

Take the fiery furnace story. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego don't condemn the worship of the gold statue. They don't ridicule the king's policy. They just refuse to bow in worship to the gold statue. And they are willing to suffer the consequences of that decision. And God rewards them for greatly.

Take Daniel and the lion's den. Daniel doesn't condemn the king's anti-Jewish-prayer policy. He doesn't speak out against the men who wrote the bill and lobbied for the bill. He doesn't complain that it's not fair. He just continues to pray three times a day, just like he'd always done. And he's willing to suffer the consequences of his decision. And God rewards him greatly.

I think we could learn something from the book of Daniel about how to live as Christians in our current culture. And maybe, possibly, hopefully, God might start rewarding us greatly like he did those four exiled Jewish men.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Identity and priorities - yesterday's sermon manuscript

Yesterday's ice-covered-roads prevented us from gathering for worship. I tried to figure out how to self-record my sermon and then upload it, but my tech-handicapped self decided instead to just share my sermon manuscript. Here it is. 

Let me ask you a question. If you were to list out your top five priorities, what would they be? Here’s another: If an outside observer were to come and do an inventory of your life, what would they say your priorities are? What about your values? Here’s another question: How do you figure out what your priorities are supposed to be? We live in a culture of misplaced priorities. That’s why it’s so important to nail down our identity, who we are, because what we believe about who we are is going to shape what we do.

We’re going to see that this morning as we look at a story of a guy who knew who he was, and he let who he was impact how he lived, even though it could have cost him his life. If you have your Bible I’d like for you to open to Daniel 1.

Let me give you some background. In the year 605 BC, 605 years before the birth of Christ, God was fed up with the nation of Israel for all their disobedience and rebellion so he allowed King Nebuchadnezzar, who was the king of Babylon, to invade Israel and they pretty much destroyed the nation. Nebuchadnezzar went into Jerusalem and took over the capital city, and as the Babylonians were accustomed to do, rounded up the best and the brightest of the young nobility, the young men from noble families, and brought them back to Babylon.

Now four of the young men he brought out are very famous men, and if you grew up in Sunday school you’ve heard their names before. They are Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So that’s where the story begins, and we’re going to begin this morning reading in verse 3: 

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility- 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.

So here’s the set-up. One of these young men, as we’re about to see, is a guy by the name of Daniel. Daniel finds himself in a foreign culture. He’s probably a teenager, anywhere from 13 to 17 years old. It’s hard to imagine. His family is probably dead. He’s been taken out of his homeland, marched across two deserts all the way to Babylon and now he’s a slave. They’ve given him a different haircut, different clothes. They’ve given him different jewelry. They possibly pierced his ear to show that he is a slave. They’ve given him a different name. They’re teaching him a different language, a different literature. All in an effort to change his identity from who God says he was to who they said he was. Culture was attempting to reshape his identity.

5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king's service.
6 Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

Now let me stop here because at first glance this looks like a great deal. These guys get to eat food and drink wine from the king’s table. And it is a big deal, just not for the reasons we might think. In that particular culture, the food that was served to the King, was first offered to the idols. With the idea being that since this food was first offered to the gods, that anyone who ate this food or drank this wine, would get the strength and the wisdom of the gods. So consequently, anyone who ate this food or drank this wine, as they rose up to positions of power, the credit was given to the gods for whom these meals represented.

So Daniel, in his teenage mind, is faced with a dilemma: He can either do what he feels like God would have him do as an Israelite, which would be abstaining from the King’s food and wine, or he can do what he feels like the king would have him do. But he can’t have it both ways. He can say, “God, I realize that to eat this food is to defile myself, go against who you say I am, and to refuse to recognize you as God, but I’ll tell you what. I’m going to go ahead and eat it anyway and ask that you give me grace and forgiveness.” His other option is to say, “I’m going to obey God and hope that the king will be gracious and forgiving.”

Now which way would you go? I mean where are you more likely to find grace and forgiveness? If you opt to obey God there could be an immediate consequence to your decision. The king, as we’ll find out in a minute, could have your head for disobedience. 

But if you go ahead and obey the king and ask for grace on God’s side there may not be any immediate consequence. Nothing may happen at all. God may never bring it up again. You might just go on my merry way. 

So here’s his dilemma. Daniel had to decide, in light of who he is, what is he going to do, who was he going to be loyal to? Who was he going to prioritize: His heavenly father or his earthly king. He couldn’t have it both ways. That was his dilemma. Look at what Daniel does:

8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

This is an incredibly bold action. Daniel draws the line and says that’s it. That’s as far as I go. You’ve tried to remove everything Hebrew from me. But I know who I am and you are not going to take away is my commitment to my God. 

Now why would Daniel make this decision? Why would he resolve not to defile himself this way?

I think it’s because Daniel knew who he was. He also knew who God was. And he knew who he was in light of who God was, and that impacted every area of his life.

There are three things that come out of this story that I think have incredible applications to us as we set priorities to live out who we are. The first one comes from verse 8. Did you notice what Daniel did up front before he knew how the story was going to work out? Before he knew that everything was going to work his way?  Before he knew if he would even survive physically? The Scripture says that Daniel resolved, he “made up his mind.”  That means he decided up front, “I am not going to compromise who I am for the sake of pleasing a pagan king. I’m just not going to do it. I don’t know how it’s going to work out. I don’t know if I’ll survive. Before I know any details. Before I know how the story is going to end. Before I even know how I’m going to approach this.” It says he “resolved in his heart, he made up his mind, I will not defile myself.”

1. Decide up front who you are and what your priorities are going to be.

You’ve got to decide that you’re going to let who God says you are define your priorities. That takes courage. Either you decide your priorities or someone else will.

There’s something else that comes out of this story and this is the part that we can’t factor in. Look what happens after Daniel makes up his mind. Start with verse 8 again.

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

So he goes to the chief official, the guy that’s supposed to train him and says, “Um, I’d like to be an exception. I mean I know you’ve been doing this for years. I know you’ve herded hundreds of people through this program, but could I have a pass.”  Imagine the fear going in to that conversation. Verse 9:  Now….  What’s the next word?  Now…God.  Isn’t that great?  Now God….  Not before.

9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel.

2. Now God….  You see, what you don’t know is what God is able and willing to do in your life once you get your priorities straight. Now God. When you get your priorities straight you open the door for God to work supernaturally on your behalf.

The last thing that comes out of this story is very practical.  Look what happens next: 

Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you."

This is a life and death issue we’re dealing with, but look at verse 11. This is brilliant:

11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 "Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see." 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

You know what the third thing is I love in this story?

3. Trust God enough to put him to the test.

They said, God, we trust you so much that we’re going to put you to the test. I know they were talking with Ashpenaz, but they were really exercising their faith.

If you were sitting across the table from me and you were to tell me your story and you’d tell me I couldn’t really understand this, I’m just a pastor, here’s what I’d say to you. Why not put God to the test? Give God a month. Just a month. Take 30 days and say for 30 days I’m going to let who God says I am define those priorities and rearrange my life accordingly. Then at the end of the 30 days evaluate. I dare you. 

So I want to challenge you to give him a month.  That is for one month you let who God says you are determine your priorities.

I believe God will show up in your life. And that’s exactly what happened with Daniel and his three friends.

15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's service.

Now God. We’re dealing with God. This isn’t luck or hocus pocus. This is a principle.  And God honors those who honor him. 

So where do you start? It begins with you determining your priorities. And here’s how I’ve done it.

1.     My relationship with God.
2.     My relationship with Liz
3.     My relationship with my kids.
4.     My physical health.
5.     My job.

So here’s your homework: Set your priorities according to who God says you are, and then live by those. 

A resource I would highly recommend is Andy Stanley's book, Choosing to Cheat. It's an easy read that is immensely practical.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Tips on how to pray

One of the reasons we don't pray consistently is we aren't sure how to pray. Here are some tips that I was thinking through this morning. 

First, connect your prayers with what you are reading in the Bible. By that I mean, don't just read the Bible. Pray through it. Turn what you are reading into prayers. They could be prayers asking for help in doing what it says. They could be prayers asking for understanding what it says. They could be prayers that agree with what it says. But let the Bible direct your prayers. 

Second, for those of you who have been around Hub City Church for any amount of time at all, you know our mission is to Make Disciples of Jesus who Make Disciples of Jesus.

The way we define a disciple is someone who hears from God and does what he says.

Another more detailed definition of a disciple is this: Someone who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus and committed to the mission of Jesus.

I was thinking through those definitions this morning a was prompted to pray through those definitions for myself, my family and our church family.

Why am I telling you this?

I think it would be great for you to pray this for yourself, your family and your church. 

Lord, today, help me hear from you and do what you say. Show me how to follow you and help me follow you. Change me. Show me where you are working and help me to join you on your mission.