Sunday, April 10, 2016

Take a Stand Like Daniel: Being a counter-culture warrior in a post-Christian America

Thomas Cole, the Course of Empire: Destruction

The mallet strikes hard wood and there you are, in the defendant chair. A court has been convened, the judge sits high on the bench robbed in black, and you sit there with your defense attorney, terrified. For you know the charge is grave and there is only one penalty: death.

But unlike most courts, where your goal would be to be found “not guilty” today your goal is to be found guilty of a very simple crime. Though you would not die for this crime in the United States, in over fifty other countries on this planet, this crime is punishable by death.

The crime is to be found guilty of being a Christian, a follower of the Way.

If investigators were looking through your legal documents, browsing through your social media feed, if they were questioning your friends and family, if they were looking at your personal conduct, would there be enough evidence to convict you of the crime of being a Christian?

Because we’ll all face this question one day, before the judgment seat of Christ: Were we faithful? Or will Christ say that he never knew us?

Let’s look at 3 categories of how we could look at believers and non believers.

First category, you’ve got your everyday people. They don’t believe in God, they don’t necessarily firmly disbelieve in God, they just frankly don’t care.

Generally speaking they sleep with who they want to, when they want to. If lying will help, they lie. If stealing will get them something they want, they steal. They watch any movies they like, maybe even pornography. They may even use drugs. They gossip regularly, tear down others in private. Maybe they smoke cigarettes. They party at bars and occasionally take strangers to bed. Curse regularly, and take the Lord’s name in vain. Just average people, you see them all the time.

Second category, we have believers in the church. They attend church, twice a month, maybe even hit a Bible study occasionally. But in at least a few ways, they look just like the world. They swear, they cheat, they steal, they lie. They drink too much sometimes, sleep around with whom ever they choose, and live how they want to live. Some call them “cultural Christians.”

3rd category, we have the believers in Christ who are sold out for the cause. This believer is a beautiful thing to witness. Their relationships are marked by love. They are polite and kind. They are careful what they watch on tv, and what movies they go to. They don’t use drugs, or smoke cigarettes, and they use alcohol responsibly. They understand that abortion is murder. They understand that gay marriage is wrong. They understand that how they speak matters. They understand that their conduct before God must be holy, holy, holy.

This 3rd category lives out a biblical worldview. They see the world through the lenses of the Bible. And they understand that daily, they are partaking in a spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of mankind.

Are you really sold out for Christ? Does your life look like that of a follower of Jesus? Or are you more in the second category?

If so, now is the time you can resolve to say: You know what. I’m going to adjust things in my life and get sold out for Christ.

This isn’t uncommon though, many of the parables elude to a simple fact: God is allowing the wheat and the weeds to grow together. What does that mean? God is building his church, and within it’s ranks are many who don’t really believe, they are the weeds. And the true church is the wheat, soon to be harvested.

But this begs the question: Why do so many Christians live like God doesn’t exist? Let's look at some quick quotations:

“If the universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the universe was created for man to live in.” –Robert Jastrow, agnostic astronomer, author of God and the Astronomers

“An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.” –Francis Crick, biochemist and spiritual skeptic, shared the Nobel Prize for discovering the molecular structure of DNA

“There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all....It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature's numbers to make the universe....The impression of design is overwhelming.” –Paul Davies, an internationally known British astrophysicist and author

"Donald Page of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Science calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one in ten billion to the 124th power! This is a number so large, it is safe to say that the universe did not come together randomly. It was created by an incredibly intelligent and powerful designer." –Charlie H. Campbell

“When you realize that the laws of nature must be incredibly finely tuned to produce the universe we see, that conspires to plant the idea that the universe did not just happen, but that there must be a purpose behind it.” –John Polkinghorne

“It was my science that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science, it is only through the supernatural that I can understand the mystery of existence.” – Allan Sandage

Given that we know God is real and we trust in Jesus Christ, then we want to make sure we are living a Godly life in Christ Jesus. Broken down to it’s core: We’re talking about conduct. And for our example of Christian conduct, we look to the book of Daniel.

Daniel provides us a perfect description of our current situation, and how to respond to it. In the book of Daniel we see that the nation of Israel had been judged by God. God allowed the Babylonians to invade and take captive Israel, and they were forced to live in exile in the foreign nation of Babylon. When they were brought to Babylon, certain Israelis were selected to be brought up in the courts of Babylon. It's interesting what they tried to do, first they gave them new names, and then they tried to acclimate them to Babylonian culture, by feeding them fine foods and giving them fine clothing. Daniel was very wise in his response. He refused the food tactfully, by requesting vegetables from the guards, arguing politely that he would grow stronger by eating vegetables instead of all the fine foods of Babylon. He also did not keep the name he was given, but continued to use the name Daniel.

Daniel was a counter-cultural warrior. He took a stand against the prevailing orthodoxies of the times. We must do the same today.

Daniel 1:8 (NIV) says "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."

They’ve got some goodies on the tray for Daniel and his buddies. Maybe some malt beer, some fine foods, all the good stuff. Look at Daniel’s buddies. They’re watching him quite intently. How true is that? For you young people, you’d be surprised how closely your friends will be watching you, especially if you’re a sort of unofficial leader in the crowd. Most people out there are clueless, when they see a pit they jump into it, and bad things happen. But when they see just one person take a stand, it inspires them to take a stand as well. Be faithful in your conduct because others are watching. You could change the entire culture, at your school, at your college, just by taking a string of stands on things like sex, partying, making fun of others , lying, cheating, and caring about issues that really matter in the world. Courage is contagious.

So if they offer you something that just seems too good to be true.. like Daniel: Talk to the hand.

Is our situation so different than Daniels? Something happened in our country. The United States, a Christian nation began to fall away from God. And that falling away has grown, and grown, and really the children of today in many cases are those raised in a worldview devoid of Christian truth. I was one of those young people. Today many Christians leaders refer to the United States a post-Christian nation. And the evidence of that is pretty clear:

Today it’s considered normal to have sex before, during, and after marriage.

Today it’s considered normal for unborn children to be killed. It’s something the Old Testament calls “Child sacrifice.” Since Roe v. Wade over 56 million persons, made in the image of God, have been slaughtered, children, while still in their own mother’s womb. Think about that.

Today gay marriage is considered normal, though the Old and New testament are quite clear that the practice of homosexuality is sinful. You’d be amazed how many within the church can’t understand the truth on this issue.

Today, profanity is considered normal.
Today pornography is a part of everyday life.
Today, it’s all about the benjamins. Money is king.

America isn’t in the process of turning from God, America has turned from God. But there’s still a remnant of the church fighting to stay alive. That’s us.

In the same way, Israel had turned from God. They forgot God. Their leaders were corrupt. You can see this again and again in the Old Testament: God blesses Israel, Israel prospers, that generation fades away, the next generation forgets about God, turns to idols and sin, then God judges Israel, a time of darkness happens, the people are humbled, they cry out to God, God hears them, delivers them, then the cycle repeats. And isn’t it haunting, to see that same cycle repeating to this very day in our own country!

During the corrupt reign of King Zedekiah we see Israel on the brink of disaster. And if you recall, King Zedekiah was the son of King Josiah, who was a godly, good king, he recovered the book of the law from the ash heap and set Israel on a path of honoring God. But King Zedekiah and Israel turned away from God. God finally said, “Have it your way.” He raised up Babylon to conquer and enslave Israel. King Nebuchadnezzar sieged Jerusalem for over a year, and finally he conquered the city, destroyed the temple, and enslaved the population, bringing them to Babylon in chains.

Daniel was among those enslaved, but once in Babylon, he prospered by the blessing of God. And God blessed him because his conduct was upright, and he remained loyal to the God of his ancestors. Daniel eventually became counsel to King Nebuchadnezzar, then after Babylon was conquered by the Meads, Daniel became a chief counsel to King Darius.

He was so good at what he did that Darius, the king, planned to put him in charge over them. Daniel’s coworkers were not too happy with him. So they decided to try and destroy Daniel. But how? They couldn’t find any way to get at him and make him look corrupt.

The scriptures say he was faithful, responsible, and completely trustworthy. But they knew what they would do. They’d find a way to make his religious faith interfere with his service to the king. They manipulated Darius into signing an edict that no one could worship anyone for 30 days except to worship the King.
What did Daniel do? And what would we do in the same situation? Imagine this situation: Prayer has just been outlawed by President Obama. Imagine that situation, or maybe prayer has just been outlawed by President Trump. It goes out on all the news networks, CNN, Fox, NBC, ABC, and they laud this new law as just a wonderful thing. Finally the American people can be free from bigots pushing their beliefs on others. The talking heads on the major networks cheer the news, and pretty soon many of your friends and neighbors are talking about what a great thing this new law is. What do you do?

Do we obey the laws of God, or do we obey the laws of man?

It says in Daniel 6:10 “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”

He didn’t weigh the pros and cons. He didn’t exhaust over it. He just continued to pray steadfastly. He was found to be faithful in his devotion to God, at a critical moment.

Firstly, Daniel resisted temptation. Secondly, Daniel was faithful. He stuck with God, in the midst of a terrible, terrible trial. Recently when I had a surgery, I had a rough time with it. I really, really was not doing well. Got depressed. Imagine what it must’ve felt like, to be enslaved by your enemies. Might you be wondering if God had forsaken you? Might you be wondering if God still even wants you at all?

We stay faithful despite our circumstances. We have to. Our outward circumstances don’t reflect a disdain from God. They reflect the blessing to suffer for Christ.

In the same way, Daniel was faithful. Now, what did he get for it? What did he get in response to taking a stand for his faith? You take a courageous stand for something, you do something really tough, and you expect maybe a bit of recognition. Maybe even a ticker-tape parade of congratulations, and wealth and the respect of your fellows. But that isn’t what this world is like. If you were working for the devil you might get all those things. But we work for the Lord God Almighty. For Daniel’s trouble, he got tossed into the Lion’s Den.

There's your ticker-tape parade. The cold stone of the lion’s den. But the angel of the Lord closed the mouths of the Lions. Let me be clear here: God may close the mouth of the lions when your feet are to the fire. But then again, maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll bring you home to glory. Sometimes he stops the spear, sometimes he cures the cancer, sometimes he leads us into death and darkness, for his glory. And shouldn’t we be only too happy to go to dark places, in the service of our God, who saved us from the fires of hell?

Thirdly, Daniel was truthful. It says Daniel was found innocent in the sight of God. Aren’t we looking for the same as we walk through life, covered by his grace yet accountable for how we live?

The scriptures say Daniel was truthful. Daniel understood what the truth was. He lived the truth. One could say Daniel held a biblical worldview. He saw reality through the truth of God’s word. And he shared that truth. We are called to do the same today.

Our conduct will inevitably flow from the truth, which is our Christian worldview… which includes these truths. We must be so, so, so careful to make sure these truths are at the center of our daily thoughts, and actions.

Fourth and finally, if we are to be biblical in our conduct we must be careful. We must be cautious. Its astounding how easy it is to slip onto a bad path. It can seem so harmless at the moment. And it isn’t until later that we realize we’ve become addicted to a desire we can’t control.

In the book of Matthew it’s recorded that Jesus Christ commissioned his twelve disciples and gave them instructions before he sent them out to proclaim the gospel. One of the key instructions Jesus gave to his disciples was this:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."

Where the Rubber hits the road: Are we really, actually living it out?

Are we literally on fire to share the gospel? Are we disturbed by the thought of a single soul going to hell?

We’ve got to apply this faith we have to every part of our minds, our emotions, our intellect, our daily life. When we look across the skyline, we must see the handiwork of God. When we look at the faces of our friends and neighbors we must see children of God.

When we gaze into the woods, or upon the mountains we ought be inspired by the glory of God’s creation. When we think of eternity we must tremble with the fearful fate of the many who fall into the grips of hell. We must be set aflame by the gospel of Jesus Christ, to carry the message to the lost in our own community.

Every moment is another chance to live it out, to live wisely, in conduct, innocent in how we live.

So we want to be wise, as wise as a serpent. And innocent as a dove. And ultimately if our conduct flows from the desire to serve Christ, we can be wise and innocent. Someone once asked Billy Graham “If Christianity is valid, why is there so much evil in this world?” To this the famous preacher replied, “With so much soap, why are there so many dirty people in the world? Christianity, like soap, must be personally applied if it is going to make a difference in our lives.”

We must apply our faith to every part of our lives. We must leave no room whatsoever for the sins that so easily corrupt. Radical adherence to holy conduct is what we need, stoic dogged determination.

In closing, maybe there is a sin in your life you want to give up. Maybe there is a part of your mind or your life that you want to turn over to Christ. Maybe you want to give your life to Christ for the first time today.

My favorite words from a hymn by Charles Wesley are as follows: My talents, gifts, and graces, Lord,
Into thy blessed hands receive;
And let me live to preach thy word,
And let me to thy glory live;
My every sacred moment spend
In publishing the sinner's friend.

Perhaps you'll make that your prayer today. Listen to the hymn, pray through it if you desire, click here. Song will also appear here:

Thank you for reading. God is good. He loves you. In response to his incredible love and relationship with you, please honor him with your conduct. We're called to live a different kind of life. I know what the world out there says, and they're wrong. We must live differently. Don't follow the crowd, instead, follow Jesus.

Here is a closing prayer. I hope you'll make it your prayer today. God will be with you always, and keep you spotless in Christ Jesus assuming you honor him in your conduct and remain free from sin. This is quite achievable in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Lord God of Heaven and Earth, we thank you that you’ve empowered us to live in holiness. We thank you Lord that you’ve provided for us the ability to be faithful, truthful, and careful in our daily lives. We ask for your strength, your Holy Spirit to be with us, and your savior to uplift us. We ask that you consecrate us to your cause today, so that you may have our whole hearts, not just some of us. Help us to be courageous and hopeful for the future. Help us to be the sold out, radical, dedicated disciples you would have us be in Jesus name, Amen.

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