What do you do when you are on the outside looking in? When you have been ostricized? Unfriended? Or worse, when you are persecuted for your beliefs? We must choose performance, character, and trust over politics, comfort, and trauma.
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Summer Singles Part 15: Tackling Treachery - 09.16.12
Intro: This coming week is the official start to Autumn. That signals two important things. #1 - FOOTBALL! Yes, your pastor is a big football fan. I’m always reminded of those 5 years in my life when I learned the importance of fundamentals, and nothing is more fundamental than tackling. It’s a head-on collision. It’s face up and fear-conquering, especially when you weigh 155 pounds and you’re tackling someone weighing 200 pounds and driving at you at 20 miles an hour!
#2 - POLITICS! Whether we like it or not we are smack dab in the middle of the U.S. political season. Republicans vs. Democrats. Gov. Romney or President Obama. You’ll be relieved to hear that I’m not going to give you any political advice as to how you should vote in November. But I am going to give you political advice... but not the kind you may think.
We live in a political world. And I’m not just talking about the election world. I’m talking about all of our worlds - at school, at work, in our friendships, and sadly sometimes, even in our churches. How should we handle the politics of life, especially when it turns very nasty against us. You know what I mean, right? When you are the odd one out. When you are excluded. When you are persecuted. When you are unfriended.
You may be surprised to learn that the Bible can be very personal in its advice. Today we’re going to look at the life of Daniel and the story of when he was thrown into the Lions Den. Daniel knew treachery!
Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah pays no attention to you, Your Majesty, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” Daniel 6:13 NIV
These other administrators and leaders were playing the political game. They hated that Daniel had been advanced over them, so they attacked him where they thought he was vulnerable - in his faith. He prayed 3 times a day to the one true God! They played on the king’s pride asking him to sign an irrevocable decree that stated that for the next 30 days no one could pray to any other person or God besides the king OR they’d be thrown into the Lions Den. These administrators trapped both the king and Daniel into what they thought would be a horrible death sentence for Daniel - the very definition of treachery.
The treachery you face may not be so deadly. At least not on the outside. But you face inward death threats all the time. What should you do when your character & reputation are attacked? Today we will learn 3 choices that Daniel made over his lifetime that helped him tackle treachery.
3 Choices To Tackle Treachery
This means that I choose to do my very best. I give my employer or my teachers my very best effort. I work hard to earn my advancement. I don’t play the political game of trying to get ahead by forming the right kind of friendships, by being part of the inside crowd. But that’s not our path. Godly men and women work hard to get ahead by what they do and not just by who they know!
“Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God.” Col. 3:22-23 MSG
Here’s what we learn about Daniel:
“Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” Daniel 6:3 NIV
You may be tempted to think that this is “pie in the sky” advice. “You don’t know how circumstances have conspired against me.” “You don’t know how the boss picks his family or his favorites even when I’ve done my best.” Consider that this verse - 6:3 - comes after years of personal reversals for Daniel: (a) he is captured and forced to relocate from his home to Babylon; (b) he and his friends are singled out because of their religious prohibitions of certain foods; (c) just when he is getting along well with the rulers of Babylon, they are overthrown by Darius and the Persians. It must seem to Daniel that every he performs his best - (a) good student in Judah; (b) eats fruits over rich foods; (c) interprets hand writing on the wall - his life turns upside down. He must feel completely out of control. Yet he always chooses performance over politics.
We serve the Lord God, who is much more concerned about our character than about our comfort or convenience. We often want the easy road, but he wants us to take the road that will most turn us into His children that will please Him and bring Him glory.
“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Romans 5:3-4 ESV
At every turn in Daniel’s life, he chose character over comfort. The same was true in the face of persecution. When he was outlawed from praying, he continued to pray 3 times a day like he always did:
“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.” Daniel 6:10 NIV
Two Do’s and Two Don’ts When Facing Persecution:
A. Don’t ___GRANDSTAND___.
We read that Daniel went home. He didn’t organize a protest. He didn’t pray on the street corner. He didn’t cause a scene. He went home. It’s tempting to try to make a big deal out of our self-righteous behavior, especially when we feel we’ve been wronged. Daniel did not host an “Oh Woe Is Me” pity party for everyone else to see.
B. Don’t ___HIDE___.
On the other hand, we read that Daniel went where the windows opened. He didn’t try to keep praying, but in a way that only he knew about. He didn’t make an outward protest on the street corners, but he didn’t hide his prayers in his heart only. Here’s what he did do...
C. Do ___REMAIN CONSISTENT___.
Daniel set the character development bar exactly where Christians need to set it... Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed... just as he had done before. God is looking for men and women who will look to Him and follow Him in good times and bad, when it’s convenient and when it’s not. He wants consistent Christians!
D. Do ___REMAIN THANKFUL___.
Finally, what do we read about Daniel’s prayers? What would you be praying if you were the subject of treachery? Wouldn’t your prayers be “Oh God help me! Get me out of this mess! I’ve been loyal to you! Now it’s your turn to be loyal to me!” That’s not how Daniel began. His prayers started by giving thanks to his God. There’s an important lesson here. When we feel most attacked and persecuted is exactly the moment when we need to most remember just how good and gracious God has been to us. We often do just the opposite and forget all of God’s past faithfulness. That’s why we struggle so much with the third choice...
Who was most traumatized by the king’s decree that condemned Daniel to the Lion’s Den? Look at your Bibles from Daniel 6:10, when the decree trap was set to 6:21 when morning came. You won’t find ANY response from Daniel. No cries of unfairness. No drama or trauma of any kind from Daniel. It was the king who was traumatized! “Then the king... was much distressed.” (v. 14) “The king spent the night fasting, sleep fled from him.” (v. 18) The king “cried out in anguish...” (v. 20).
You might wonder why Daniel - who was so famous for making predictions that he is still famous - never made a prediction about his fate with the Lions Den before v. 22, when he says, “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths...” Here’s Pastor Mark’s best guess: because he didn’t know his outcome! He wasn’t calm going into the Lion’s Den because he knew God would take care of him. His outcome could have been death. Here’s the key... either way it went for Daniel, he had hope!
“... Character produces hope.” Romans 5:4b NIV
This is not something that just happened in Daniel’s life. He didn’t suddenly decide to become brave in the face of death. Daniel had invested his entire lifetime in choosing character over comfort and trust over trauma! His trust, his character, his performance was honed and finely trained over a lifetime of trusting-God experiences. This was why he could remain cool, calm and collected while everyone else, including the king, was losing their own cool.
The same is true for you. You cannot suddenly decide to be trustful in God. You cannot suddenly become hopeful when life’s biggest attacks come your way. You develop your trust in God one step at a time, first with the small things and then with the larger. This evening, what can you be trusting in God for right now?
Conclusion. After 15 weeks we finally come to the end of our Summer Singles sermon series. We have seen story after story of people who developed their trust in God. It’s fitting that we end with Daniel, because we see the impact that comes from his trust in God. The same is true of your trust in God - it will change our world. Notice the pagan, non-believing, non-Jewish, outsider king says about God to Daniel in v. 20:
“O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Daniel 6:20 NIV
Here’s our final baseball analogy: 1st base - God is always faithful; 2nd base - I can trust in God; 3rd base - when I trust in God, I have hope; 4th base - when I trust in God, other people notice! Is your trust in God, not only getting you to home plate, but bringing others home too? Let’s pray.