Moments of Truth: Daniel 2:1-23

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DANIEL 2:1-23

A good friend of mine, an elementary teacher in Las Vegas, NV, posted his story on Facebook this week. He granted me permission to share it today.

“Last Monday, right after the students were dismissed, a Kindergarten teacher ran up to me and asked if I had seen one of her students. When I told her that I hadn’t, she ran back towards the office. This kind of thing happens quite often, a student does not go where they are supposed to and he pops up a few minutes later (because he had to go the bathroom, etc.).

I went back to my room, got cleaned up, and went to church for my internship. I was tempted to take a different route but went my usual way. God was urging me to keep my eyes open for this student. In my heart, I just KNEW that I was going to find him.

Well, once I turned onto Sunset Road, I saw a little boy running and crying. I quickly stopped and yelled his name. He came running towards me and I gave him a hug. I called the school and his mom came to the church a few minutes later to pick him up.

I have received praise for this, somewhat of a “hero’s welcome,” but I do not want to take the credit. If his teacher did not run over to me and tell me that he was missing, I would not have known to look for him or even to call his name. If my intimacy with God was not what it is on a daily basis, I would not have been able to discern His voice in my busy life. God “told” me that I would find this student…and it happened. Let that sink in for a second.

We cannot expect to hear from God if we are not listening to Him. The closer we are to Him, the easier it is to hear His voice.” – Matthew Pfeil

Today, in the first half of Daniel chapter two, we see how Daniel leans when faced with an incredibly high stress, anxiety-producing, life and death situation. Because it’s not everyday we find ourselves in the midst of life threatening events, it’s important to note that how we lean is not just critical for the obvious, in your face, do-this-or-you-die scenarios, like Daniel’s story. Our everyday conversations with our everyday relationships, like my friend Matt’s story, always hold the potential to be life-giving, life-preserving, and life-saving.

A MOMENT OF TRUTH

Continuing the story of Daniel in Babylon, chapter two begins with King Nebuchadnezzar waking from a terrifying and disturbing dream. It wasn’t the normal, “I was standing there in my underwear” dream, but the kind where you feel terribly connected to another world, and you can hardly go back to sleep. He knew this dream held significance, so much so that he wasn’t willing to risk his staff placating his ego this time. He refused to share the dream, and instead demanded that they first tell him the dream, and then he could probably trust the interpretation that went with it. Everyone failed. And the king sentenced the whole lot of magicians to execution, including Daniel and his three friends who weren’t even there.

When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, came to kill them, Daniel handled the situation with wisdom and discretion. He asked Arioch, “Why has the king issued such a harsh decree?” (Daniel 2:14-15 NLT)

Daniel immediately went before the king, requested more time, which was granted, then returned to his friends to pray. They probably cried desperate pleas for God’s divine intervention, and intervene He did. That night the dream and its interpretation were delivered to Daniel. Thrilled, and awed by the immensity of our God that we serve, he praised God before he did anything else.

A moment of truth for Daniel, made possible through preparation. In the first lesson I talked about the pattern of God’s will, and that by recognizing where we are in the pattern, we have the opportunity to partner with God in the process.

Basic Pattern

In the second lesson I talked about how we partner with God by how we respond to Him.

  • Seek to know Him
  • Seek His presence
  • Seek His vision
  • Seek His confirmation

We will all inevitably find ourselves in a moment of truth, revealing how ready we are to walk into our purpose.  And scripture says that we will rely on the understanding we have to guide us through our decision-making. The real question is, whose understanding is it? Our own or God’s?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB)

Only God’s voice, His direct revelation and guidance, will help us in wisdom and discretion. The challenge we all face is discerning His voice above all the others. Don’t worry, it’s as easy for us as it was for Daniel. His world was just as noisy as ours, he had doubts and insecurities as we do, and he faced the same spiritual enemy we face. These moments of truth are part of our preparation. They indicate our readiness to move into God’s purpose.

VOICES

You’ve probably heard people say things like, “Just listen to your heart. Go with your gut. Listen to that still, small voice.” For as long as I can remember, I have always had an internal dialogue going on inside my head every day, all day. That internal voice is louder for some people than it is for others, but it’s usually there. From my perspective I see three basic categories of voices:

Conscience

Aside from attachment disorders and other behavioral complications that deaden the voice of the conscience, the vast majority of us are born with some degree of conscience, also commonly known as our “heart.” It’s the voice most often associated with self.  Our voice.  Even without the help of the Bible, there are some things we just know are right and some things we just know are wrong.

However, the problem arises when we allow and encourage our conscience to be the dominant voice, because our conscience is largely shaped by the values and morals of the surrounding culture, as well as personal experience. What is considered “wrong” by one group, in one setting, and in one period of time, may not be considered “wrong” by another. It can then lead to the conclusion that nothing is inherently wrong, allowing culture and experience to dominate that definition.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)

The heart reproduces what’s been instilled in it, good and bad.  The conscience is ultimately an unreliable voice unless it’s been saturated with holiness.

The Enemy

Then there’s the nefarious voice of the devil, also known as the “father of lies” (Jn 8:44) and his demons. Around for millennia, they’ve nearly perfected the art of manipulation. Masters of saying just the right thing and pushing just the right buttons, they work toward one goal: destroy humanity.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8 ESV)

For those of us who have committed our lives to Christ, the devil cannot snatch us from his fingers (Jn 10:28), however it does not make us immune to his schemes either. This is why we must be watchful and aware. We need to recognize the sound of the enemy’s voice, so that we can reject it outright. Below is a quick guide to recognize the devil’s most common tactics.

Adapted from Choosing God’s Best, Dr. Don Raunikar
Adapted from Choosing God’s Best, Dr. Don Raunikar
The Spirit

And finally the most important, most sacred voice of all: the Spirit of God. I often call it that still, small voice. But why is it so small if it’s so important?   I believe it’s because we allow it to be reduced by the choices we make when we choose the world over Christ. If we were to truly understand the implications of not fostering an intimacy with Christ on a daily basis, we would never choose the busyness of this world over Christ. But we don’t, so we do, and then we can’t hear God, and we wonder why.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13 ESV)

This is the voice we should want to dominate our lives. This is the voice that represents heaven.

INTIMACY

The voice that grows is the voice we feed, so we need to talk about how to nourish the voice of the Spirit. It’s called intimacy. Intimacy with Christ is really the whole point of…I don’t know…everything! It’s another word for what I’ve already described: knowing Him and being with Him. God introduces us to the wilderness of preparation so that we can understand how to know him and be with him. We go into the wilderness so that we can grow in intimacy with Christ.

God asked Hosea to marry a prostitute knowing full well that he would suffer through her rejection and unfaithfulness, all so that we might have a picture not only of Israel’s rejection and unfaithfulness to God, but also ours.  But then…

But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to here there. (Hosea 2:14 NLT)

There are times when I get thirsty and one sip of water will do. But then there are times when one sip of water seems to trigger an insatiable thirst, causing me to guzzle glass after glass after glass. This is the kind of thirst for God that intimacy causes. You get a sip, and you want more and more of God. As you pursue this living water, over time you will notice the voice of His Spirit growing inside you. Like any relationship, you come to know the in’s and out’s of this voice by spending quality time together. Intimacy with Christ makes you one with heaven.

Have you heard the term “Jacob’s Ladder?” It comes from Genesis, the story of Jacob’s life, when he dreamt of a stairway that reached from heaven to earth. “He saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.” (Gen 28:12) Years later, the Apostle John records Jesus at the beginning of his ministry.

Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth. (John 1:51 NLT)

I believe Jesus was foretelling, in part, the intimacy that would soon be freely available to the disciples and each of us. An intimacy only made possible by his death on the cross. We can see the heavens opened up for us.

LEANING WHICH WAY

Getting back to Daniel, he was a smart guy. If anyone would be tempted to rely on his own logic and intellect, it would be Daniel. But we see him, in this moment of truth, going straight back to God. We know he prayed, but we don’t know exactly how he prayed or any other form of worship he may have employed that evening.  However, I’m pretty confident he sought God’s presence as much, if not more, than he sought God’s insight. And Daniel was floored by how much more God revealed about Himself in the process.  Daniel asked for the dream and an interpretation, and in addition walked away with (maybe for the first time) a much grander appreciation for God’s expansiveness and sovereignty over the world and its future.

While we have all been equipped with varying degrees of education, intellect, and talent, without the insight that comes from the Spirit of God, then it’s merely our own understanding. Our understanding can be logical, rational, and flat out astounding, but without Christ and his confirmation, we could end up on a path that only looks right, but turns out to be terribly wrong.

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. (Proverbs 14:12 NLT)

Recognizing the truth of this proverb, and our dependency upon God daily, keeps us humble and attuned to His voice. And it’s His voice that leads us into life-giving, life-preserving, and life-saving decisions. It’s imperative that we make knowing Him and being with Him the priority every day. Partner with God in your wilderness so that when these moments of truth arrive, and they will, your character will shine in how you lean.

When Does Compromise Become a Bad Word: Daniel 1

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DANIEL 1

We’ve seen it, we’ve heard it, and it’s inundated our newsfeeds. The Christian baker refuses to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and the bakery is then forced to close. The county clerk refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses and a storm of anger erupts around her employment status. The culture of the U.S. has rapidly changed and Christians aren’t entirely sure how to respond to these changes, and when they do, it tends to evoke deep, emotional responses on both sides.

But this isn’t simply a battle between Christians and non-Christians. Even among Christian believers the opinions span the spectrum.  Despite the fact that Christians might offer up scripture here and there to support their position on these matters, the truth is, scripture isn’t terribly specific when the context of the quoted passage is taken into consideration.   How then, are we supposed to apply scripture and make these types of decisions? When do we compromise and choose a response for the sake of love and relationship, and when do we draw the line and make a stand?

Unlike many bloggers and writers, today I’m not offering my opinion on these newsworthy topics. I’ve been hesitant to do so because I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. I believe it takes thoughtful discernment to understand all the factors that play into each situation, including our own sinful pride and potentially clouded judgment. This discernment is quite honestly what seems to be missing from so many equations.

Equipped with Discernment

In the previous lesson, I discussed the pattern of God’s will for our lives as it has been revealed multiple times throughout the Bible. I said that the Wilderness stage of that pattern is intended to be a time of preparation; a stage in life where God equips us to live out our future purpose. If we have a hope of ever using effective discernment, we must first be equipped with it.

While Judah was in the stage of captivity in Babylon, Daniel and his friends were in a personal stage of Preparation. They were quite literally being trained in every sort of education and discipline. The Wilderness of Preparation is designed to teach us about God’s faithfulness so as to build in us faithfulness toward him. His favor in response is not merely a reward for our faithfulness, but a confirmation of his.

We see these four young men remain faithful to the Lord through diet an attitude. They build relationships the entire time. God confirms his faithfulness with good health and an unusual aptitude for learning and discernment. King Nebuchadnezzar liked them the best. Let’s go further though, and look at how discernment is developed in this stage of preparation.

Scratching the Surface of Discernment with Love

In Daniel chapter one we see Daniel and his contemporaries being whisked off into Babylon to undergo intense pagan indoctrination. They study the literature, learn the language, change their names, and train for royal positions within the Babylonian kingdom. They draw the line, however, on the food they eat. Most scholars agree that Daniel considered the food defiled because of the Hebrew dietary laws and restrictions, or the idol practice the food underwent, or both. Does this mean that in so doing, he’s established a universal “line” for all God-fearing believers?

If we look forward to Acts chapter 15 we see a similar outcome. In this chapter of Acts a rift has developed between long-times Jews and new Gentile Christians. These Judaizers (as they were referred to) insisted that the new Gentile converts needed to follow the Law of Moses and get circumcised. This mandate threatened the very spirit of grace, and the Apostle Paul fought vehemently against it. He traveled to Jerusalem to make his case and persuade the believers to stay true to grace. In the end they all agreed with Paul, but compromised with the following requirements in a letter from James to Antioch:

“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: you must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:28-29 NLT)

Some believe James was primarily concerned with these practices because they directly related to pagan idol worship. Is it possible James thought about this exact scenario in Daniel as the basis of his recommendation? Who knows? I believe Paul compromised and agreed to this letter for the sake of unity, love, and relationship. I’m sure he agreed with James on ridding the emerging Church of any pagan practices, but I doubt he wanted any “requirements” associated with Jesus.

Why do I think Paul compromised on this subject?  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul spends a good portion in chapter eight answering their question as to whether or not eating meat offered to idols is wrong.

So what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. (I Corinthians 8:4 NLT)

However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do. (I Corinthians 8:7-8 NLT)

So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live – for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. (I Corinthians 8:13 NLT)

If Paul truly believed there was nothing lost nor gained by the decision to eat meat offered to idols, then he must have endorsed the letter forbidding the consumption of meat offered to idols because of his love for the Church, and his desire to see them wholeheartedly pursue Christ, which outweighed this technicality. He’s even willing to never eat meat again for the sake of love and relationship. He goes on to say that liberty and freedom in Christ will always be consistent with love for others.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is good for you. You say,
I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others. (I Corinthians 10:23 NLT)

Interestingly, Daniel had the same freedom to eat from the king’s table, just as he had the freedom to accept the Babylonian names and educational training. Why did Daniel feel compelled to draw the line at the food when it’s clear God really cares about the condition of your heart? We don’t know for sure. Either Daniel didn’t understand this or he held another motive. My best guess is that these young men wanted to preserve some form of worship (when all other forms had been stripped away) and God’s Spirit directed them in this way. The way in which they proposed their suggestion was obviously done in love, and their relationship with the eunuch was established on mutual respect.

Any sticky decision begs a foundation upon which to rest. You must ask yourself, “Whom am I loving on either side of the decision?”

Seeking Equipment

I’m not going to tell you whether or not you should bake a cake, or whether or not to quit your job, but I will outline a set of responsive moves based on the equipment we see God utilize during Israel’s wilderness.

Seek To Know God

The Law – God gave Israel the law as soon as they crossed to the other side of the Red Sea. We know the law is not the means to salvation, but rather a means to KNOW HIM. And knowing him is indeed the means to salvation.

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3 NIV)

God gave them the law so that they might know him. We can take advantage of the time in the wilderness, and seek to know him. There are a number of ways to do this and they should always end up in his Word, whether it’s Bible study, church attendance, or fellowship with other believers.

Seek God’s Presence

The Tabernacle – God gave Israel the tabernacle, also known as the place of his presence. While in the wilderness, Israel saw his presence and followed his guidance with the manifestation of a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Enjoy yourselves in the presence of the Lord your God along with your sons, daughters, male and female slaves, the Levites who live in your cities, the foreigners, orphans, and widows who live among you. Enjoy yourselves at the place the Lord your God will choose for his name to live. (Deut 16:11 GW)

With the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, we have become his holy tabernacle, his holy temple. His presence provides the direct connection to God that we need for discernment to know our path as well as the power to obey it. Practice his abiding presence through worship and prayer, and give yourself wholly to him.

Seek God’s Vision

A Prophet – God provided Israel with a prophet in Moses. Moses articulated a vision of God’s community in the Promised Land; a vision to encourage them to step forward in faith and obedience when things looked daunting or exhausting.

When you cross the Jordan River and enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, … a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord the God of your ancestors, promised you. (Deut 27:2-3 NLT)

Moses provided the Israelites with warnings and admonishment to obey God’s law, and he gave them God’s vision of a fruitful community through obedience. God’s ultimate vision for Israel was to bring salvation to the world through them and Moses shared this too.

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. (Deut 18:15 NLT)

When God directs us, if we are listening and watching closely, he will frequently accompany this with a glimpse of his vision. This vision is often not a detailed picture, so don’t expect to receive GPS map with exact coordinates. It’s typically a glimpse to encourage us another step forward.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105 KJV)

The lamp that we carry only illuminates a step or two ahead, requiring additional insight and guidance from God to keep walking. We need him with us daily, moving the lamp forward so that we can wisely navigate the path until we reach the light. Seek his vision by asking God to give you gift of sight. Lord, show me what you want me to see, so that I might move forward boldly.

Seek God’s Confirmation

Manna – God provided manna from heaven for Israel to eat as a sign of his faithfulness. He was indeed in this wilderness with them.

But in your great mercy you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud still led them forward by day, and the pillar of fire showed them the way through the night. You sent your good Spirit to instruct them, and you did not stop giving them manna from heaven or water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell! (Nehemiah 9:19-21 NLT)

The Jews reflect on all the positive things God provided for their ancestors hundreds of years before, but no doubt there were plenty of those exact ancestors who did not view the wilderness in this way. They saw only the hardship. And don’t misunderstand; the wilderness is not without its hardship. But as you seek God’s direction to remain faithful to him, seek confirmation of his faithfulness toward you. Seek confirmation on his direction for every step in your life. He’s pleased to provide it.

APPLYING IT

When Daniel chose to draw the line at the food from the king’s table, he used discernment to do so. His request was proposed in love and respect. I believe he made the request for the purpose of maintaining an element of worship so that they might know God more and remain in God’s presence. Daniel comes awfully close to implying he held a vision of better health by suggesting a comparison of him and his friends after 10 days. And sure enough, God confirmed their decision with favor in the form of better health and an unusual aptitude for wisdom.

Daniel’s story isn’t necessarily a story to inspire us all to boldly rebel against any and all cultural deviations. This was Daniel’s journey, not ours. However, like all scripture, there are underlying values and principals to be applied. I pray that we will allow love-of-others to take preeminence in our decision-making and that our choices would be guided after we’ve make a practice of seeking to know God, seeking his presence, seeking his vision, and seeking his confirmation.