Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Sermon for October 30

The Lion’s Den
Daniel 6:1-28

Imagine you are invited to a dinner party. You’re dressed up. You smell nice. You’re planning on a fun evening. When you arrive, however, you realize the night is deceitfully different than you planned. None of your friends are there. Not only that, everyone around the dinner table hates you. Not only that, the sole reason for your invitation to this dinner is so that your rivals can tell you exactly what they think of you. Not only that, once you arrive, the doors are locked behind you. There is no escape. No defense. All you can do is sit and listen as others verbally attack you. At this dinner party, you are the main course of a meal celebrating your own demise! The guests want nothing better than to consume you by criticism or harassment.

With the holidays coming up, I know many people who dread family get-togethers. They are gearing up to endure unrelenting criticism around the Thanksgiving table. They go to visit family, get swarmed by critique, and have to defend every action – every decision.

The lions Daniel faced are perfect images of people who'd like nothing better than to consume you by criticism or harassment. How do you keep from being eaten alive by them?

The lion’s Daniel faced are also perfect pictures of our American culture -- a culture that is losing its patience with traditional Christianity. Most American’s claim they have a well-thought-out philosophy of life. Most of these same people also claim to be Christians. However, research shows that many adults live for the moment and have nothing more than a loose set of principles to which they cling. Sometimes these principles clash with each other. For example, a person might believe it’s important to love our neighbor, but also believes that a person has to look out for one’s own best interests. Another person might believe that God loves welcomes everyone. Except Muslims, gays, feminists, and unpatriotic Americans. Most Americans believe they are practicing Christian principles and beliefs, but they are really living out a spirituality focused upon living for the moment. We believe we deserve every possible good outcome without having to earn those outcomes.

Here are some of the most widely accepted values of Americans today:

  • Time is our single most precious commodity. Guard your time wisely, and protect your schedule.
  • Minimize long-term commitments.
  • Maintain your individuality and independence at all costs. No one else is going to serve your needs and interests but you.
  • Trust your feelings to guide you. Absolute principles place unrealistic limitations on you.
  • Don’t waste time doing things that don’t bring immediate rewards.
  • Character and self-esteem are only formed through achievement.
  • Have fun. Spend lot of money to make sure you will have fun.
  • Stay fit. Spend lot of money to make sure you will stay fit.

We don’t want anyone telling us what to do, how do it, or when it needs to be done. Placing parameters on people makes them rebel.[i]

What happens if you decide that your principles will be grounded on a reading of Scripture? What would you decide are important principles for Christians to live by. Here’s what I come up with:

  • We are mortal. While I like the idea of progress, being human means that we have limitations. At times, our wisdom is imperfect, and no matter how much we study, or what we invent, there will always be a few mysteries.
  • Christians believe in the supernatural. There is a God.
  • Christian worship together regularly.
  • Christians believe in a personal God, made known in Jesus Christ.
  • Christians live to please and obey God.
  • Christians believe that they are filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • Christians have an upward—looking faith, relying on God to guide us in making decisions.
  • Christians have an outward-looking faith, filled with compassion, generosity, and service to others.
  • A Christian’s faith influences a Christian’s behavior.

Think about how some of this is at odds with the messages of the culture. The culture tells us to trust our feelings. Christianity says trust God’s word. The culture says avoid long-term commitments. Christians say get yourself to worship and commit to a church family. The culture wants you to live for yourself and spend whatever it takes to protect your privacy and individuality. Christianity teaches that we find ourselves by losing ourselves – that we are better as a community than as are as individual followers. Maybe you can see how following the guidelines of faith will put you at odds with the world around you. If you live out your faith, people will think you’re strange. They will talk about you. They won’t understand what you're doing and why you make certain decisions.

The lions Daniel faced are perfect images of people who would like nothing better than to consume you by criticism or harassment. How do you keep from being eaten alive by them? How do we live as Christians in a world that is losing its patience with us? Let me offer a couple of suggestions.

Turn Down the Invitation to DinnerDaniel. refused to be consumed by others. How can we follow his example? The nature of our Christian faith makes us a tempting snack. Be tough. Not even lions like a meal that’s mostly muscle and backbone. Here’s an example. I hear it all the time: pastors complaining about sports on Sunday morning. We are losing our children to soccer and basketball practices. The coaches should schedule Sunday afternoons. Sunday morning is a sacred time for worship, not sports. Listen, the sports leagues are not going to close down on Sunday mornings. I don’t care how much you ask, beg, or boycott. We can no longer expect the culture is not going to accommodate the church. The sports leagues are not interested in making your life easier or soothing your conscience. Their job is to teach sports and organize teams. You need to make a choice. You need to set your priorities and live with the consequences. If Sunday morning worship is a priority, then you say no to Sunday soccer practice. It takes a lot of strength. And courage. We can take our stand against the world’s offerings by participating in the alternative. The lion’s don’t know what to do with people who refuse to be consumed.

Turn the Restaurant into a Spiritual Retreat. When dinner is served in the lion’s den, and you’re on the menu, remember Daniel and imitate his example. He didn’t try to fight back, change his convictions, or close the lions' mouths himself. When Daniel knew that his enemies were out to get him, what did he do?

Did he compromise? Did he go to the king and say, “Ok you caught me. But really, I wasn’t praying. It just looked like it. I was humming show tunes. Yes, that’s the ticket” ?

Did Daniel complain? “Did he go to King Darius and say, “These other guys made you pass a law because they are jealous of my work. I’m the victim here. I don’t serve to be a lion’s lunch”?

Did Daniel Plot or get even get even? Did he read a book on taming lions? The text says, He went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open...he knelt down...three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.

Daniel knew when he lived on his knees, he could rest in faith. How about you? How’s your prayer life?


You know what else? Sometimes God asks us to go into the lion’s den willingly. On December 29, 1976, shortly after 7 p.m., a train pulling out of Ashtabula, Ohio puffed its way across a trestle. Suddenly the passengers heard a terrible cracking sound. The trestle snapped and eleven rail cars plunged seventy feet down into a watery ravine. Even before the wooden cars slammed into the bottom, they were aflame, set afire by kerosene heaters. Of the 159 passengers in those cars, 92 were killed and most of the rest suffered serious injuries. Snuffed out by the wreck was a young couple whose bodies were never found. Their names were Philip and Lucy Bliss. Philip initially survived the wreck. But his wife was trapped in the wreckage. When a fire started he rushed back in to save her. They both died. Sometimes it works that way. Faith asks us to put ourselves in danger to help the one’s we love.
And Philip Bliss was a man of faith. If you don’t recognize the name, he was the most prominent hymn writer of his time. We still sing his songs today:
Sing them Over again to me, wonderful words of life
Brightly Beams our Father’s mercy
Let he lower light keep burning
Man of sorrows, what a name
The tune to “It Is Well With My Soul.”
Bliss wrote another old hymn. I wanted to it sing today. Dare to be a Daniel. I couldn’t find the music anywhere. Philip Bliss wrote the words in 1873, three years before he died
Standing by a purpose true,

Heeding God’s command,

Honor them, the faithful few!

All hail to Daniel’s band!

Dare to be a Daniel,

Dare to stand alone!

Dare to have a purpose firm!

Dare to make it known.


Daring to be like Daniel means being unshakeable in a world that will try to shake you up. It doesn’t mean we won’t face tough circumstances or we don’t be afraid of feel weak. It does mean that you can turn down a few invitations to be a lion’s dinner.

Sources:

Face Your Enemies the Way Daniel Did by David Jeremiah
George Barna, The Second Coming of the Church (Waco: Word, 1998), 129-148.

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