Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Story- Daniel in Exile

January 27 and 28   The Story: Daniel in Exile
Scripture: Daniel 6: 1-7,10-11, 16


This week we are continuing our journey through the Story, where we have front rows seats as we watch the unfolding of God’s grand plan. Today takes us to Babylon, a country that has just laid waste to the southern Kingdom of Judah. And in Babylon, we find a faithful man of God named Daniel, whose biggest challenge is to remain devoted to God in the midst of a foreign land. If you have your Bibles…


I’m not much of a worldwide traveler (I’ve only been out of the country two times), but I enjoyed both trips immensely. Before I stepped foot in different countries, I guess you could say that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I’d only ever known life as a born and bred rural Western Pennsylvanian. That was the only framework for living I’d ever encountered. So the history and pageantry of England was exciting, as was the rugged terrain and simplicity of life in Zimbabwe. These experiences were significant for my personal growth- they taught me a lot about myself, about my neighbor and mostly about my God. But both times I knew I was coming home. Both trips had a very clear end date and I knew that on a certain day, I’d board a plane and would set foot again on American soil. And both times I was relieved when I made it home, because there’s no place like it. But for the young man Daniel, there was no such guarantee.


Daniel’s life, as with many others from Judah, had changed drastically. Before he had a chance to blink, everything about his life was stripped away and he was deported to a foreign land. And this land looked nothing like home. They spoke a different language, had different customs, worshipped different gods, and ate different foods. And almost immediately, Daniel was schooled in the “ins and outs” of his new country, as if to make him forget his old ways and convert him to the new. But there was one thing Daniel could not forget; one thing Daniel would not forget, and that was the God to whom he had given his life. No matter what, Daniel was determined to devote himself to God, and somehow he was going to figure out how to do that even if he was living as a stranger in a strange land.


 Although Daniel’s story might seem strange to us, it does have a way of intersecting with ours. In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul says that those who have decided to follow Jesus are now citizens of a new kingdom- God’s kingdom- and we’ll spend the rest of our days trying to make that kingdom our reality in a world that feels like a strange land. That’s how Scripture often talks about people of faith. We are a people who live with a different motivation and purpose than the prevailing culture. And wherever we call home, we know that our true home is with Jesus. Peter puts it this way: We are like strangers living in a strange land.


That sound like a pretty tall task, doesn’t it? Nobody likes to be the stranger. Nobody likes to feel like he or she is on the outside looking in. And yet faith does, at times, feel like a strange way to live in our world. When Jesus appears on the scene, he begins to teach about a new way to live, and it sounds strange to those who first hear. It even sounds strange to us. He says stuff like “Forgive your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you” and “those who lose their life will gain it.” You don’t see many commercials advertising that way to live! That’s just not how we do things in our world. Gone are the days when everyone went to church because it was the normal thing to do. Gone are the days when you knew everyone who lived on your street because they were in your Sunday school class. And we miss those days. Although the “good old days” probably weren’t as good as we think, there does seem to be an increasing assault on the ways of Jesus, as well as an increase in violence, division and self-centeredness. If there was ever a time for you and I to live like Daniel, with an unwavering commitment to Jesus, that time is now. So how do we do it? How do we maintain our commitment to Jesus when that commitment stands in contrast to so much of what the world values? How do we remain faithful to Jesus in a world that is not our true home? To that, we turn to the story of Daniel and learn from his life.


One of the first things we notice about Daniel’s determined way of living is his prayer life. I think it’s important to point out that Daniel’s life, wherever it took him, was built on fervent prayer. That’s how he sustained his faith, especially during trying times, and I think that’s good wisdom for each of us. No matter how hard we try to stay committed to Jesus, we will struggle unless we first commit ourselves to the discipline of prayer. Daniel’s prayer life was like fuel for his faith. It gave him unwavering confidence to be who God had called him to be regardless of circumstances. Daniel’s prayer life sustained him when he knew it would be easier to give in. Maybe the most well known example of this type of fervent prayer happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus understood the pain of the cross was just a few hours away. If it’s possible, he cried out, take this cup from me.” But it wasn’t possible, and I believe those prayers sustained him in the face of his darkest hour. There will be times when you want to give up, times when you want to throw in the towel and times when you wonder if your faith is worth it. There will be times when it’s easier to take the drink than to say no, when it’s easier to follow orders than question the wisdom of those orders, or easier to put your faith in anything else. And when those times knock on your door, it will be the discipline of prayer that will push you through. What is Daniel’s first piece of advice for faithful living? Cultivate a fervent prayer life.


There’s a second trait that characterized Daniel’s life, and I think this trait was also grounded in his commitment to prayer: Everything Daniel did, he did with excellence, to the glory of God. And this alone made him stand out. People took notice of the way Daniel lived his life, and they could never find any fault in him. That’s because Daniel knew the purpose of his life was to serve God, no matter the zip code or temptation. Daniel knew that he didn’t leave his faith behind in Judah. And neither do you. Your faith is meant to go with you wherever you go and whatever you do, because God goes with you. Your faith is meant to shine when everything is working out the way you want and when nothing is working out the way you want. One of the ways we can apply this in our lives is to ask the question, “How would Jesus live my life or do my job if he were me?” In his prime work called “The Divine Conspiracy,” author Dallas Willard challenges us to “do our jobs as Jesus would do them” whether in Jerusalem or Babylon.[1] And I would add that we should live out every arena of life as Jesus would. So, let’s try this on for size. How would Jesus be a husband to your wife? Be the husband the way Jesus would be if he were you. How would Jesus serve the customer if he worked your aisle? Be the employee Jesus would be if he were you. How would Jesus respond to your teacher if he sat in your seat? Be the student Jesus would be if he were you. You see, we might be strangers in a strange land, but as the old psalm says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” If we live in a strange land for the glory of God, some of God’s glory just might find its way into those places. Maybe there was a larger reason Daniel found himself in Babylon. Maybe it was to share some of God’s glory with that strange land.


Finally, living faithfully as exiles with our eyes focused on God’s grand plan, which is what we’re really talking about, means that we’ll have opportunities to take a stand, even if they do come at a high cost. But that cost is worth it if God is glorified. Daniel could not bring himself to pray to a foreign God. He couldn’t bring himself to live any differently than the way he knew, a way he knew was good. And he was thrown into the lion’s den because of it. There is a cost to following Jesus. That’s nothing new. There’s a cost to following Jesus! Now, most of us won’t be asked to lay down our physical lives or face extreme persecution, but there will be other costs to consider when you take a stand for your faith. Friendships, jobs, families, pride, reputation. And you’ll have to decided if it’s worth it. Only you can answer that. When your friends are remarking on the shape of your waitress’s body, is it worth taking a stand? When your family laughs at the racist joke, is it worth calling them out? When your company needs you to fudge the numbers ever so slightly, is it worth saying no and risking your job? Is it worth standing up and standing out when you have the chance?


I heard a story told the other day about the father of Corrie ten Boom, a faithful follower of Christ from the Netherlands who was arrested, along with her family for hiding Jews from Nazi personnel. Father ten Boom was well along in years when he was arrested, and the Nazis actually took pity on his old age, telling the old man that he was free to go and die in his own home if he would agree to no longer take in any illegals. Father ten Boom was a man of deep conviction, however. He lived as a stranger in this world, a citizen of God’s kingdom. And he said, “If I go home today or tomorrow I will open my door to anyone who knocks for help…It would be an honor to give my life for God's chosen people." Ten days later he died on a Nazi hospital bed.[2]


Standing up takes courage, especially when you’re in a strange land and nobody else seems to be paying any attention. And Daniel’s courage stands as a powerful testimony for all who want to faithfully follow God. Daniel never did make it out of that land, but he was protected from the lions. And because of his devotion to God, one of the kings had this to say: “I issue a decree that in every part of my Kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end… Even in Babylon, God was calling people to His Story.


Will you have faith-filled courage today?  That’s what it takes to live as exiles until we get to our heavenly home. And if you find your courage lacking, I leave you with a poem written by one of my dearest friends and colleagues in ministry:

No matter what is before you, it is never the entire story.
Because there is One who is writing a Story
that always matters,
is always good,
is always unpredictable,
and is always redemptive.
That One always stands behind you. Amen.[3]
    



[1] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, pages 285-286


[2] Heard in an interview on a recent Renovare podcast.
[3] Rev. Tim Goodman, Facebook Post. Used with permission. 

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