Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the US State Department estimates that at least 900,000 Ukrainians have been forcibly relocated to Russia.
Of course, thousands of these are children and young people.
Daniel was a teenager when he was forcibly taken to Babylon.
We don’t know if his parents were killed or captured, we don’t know even if they had survived whether he was ever able to see them again.
I want to contemplate what life was like for Daniel for a few minutes…but to think about it in terms of several key life phases.
Of course, I don’t know for certain, because the Bible doesn’t record all these events…but knowing humans it would be hard to believe that what I am going to describe DID NOT happen.
What we do know for certain…
Daniel, along with a group of elite young Jews was taken into the hostile Kings government training program.
They were given Babylonian names and trained to be experts in Babylonian language and culture.
That culture, like most in history, had religious foundations so he would have to learn Babylonian polytheism, idolatry, magic, and superstitions along with their form of government.
Daniel was given preferential treatment over exiles (he rejected at least the food portion).
He would have had amenities that the rest of his people would not have had.
Most of the Jews were likely living in a kind of refugee camp, tens of thousands of foreigners showing up would not have had access to good permanent housing.
Daniel was housed by the King’s court.
Imagine you are in one of these camps…standing in a bread line, or at a water distribution site in a long, long line…and you hear some people talking about Daniel.
You listen in, “Daniel is pathetic. He took a pagan name, he is learning pagan religion, and he has given into a pagan government just so he can be comfortable. He is an unfaithful, self-serving, sell-out.”
Children are told stories in the tent cities of how Daniel has compromised his faith and how they should not be like him.
Probably the exact opposite of what our children learn regarding Daniel in Super Church.
Meanwhile, Daniel was faithfully and without doubt, great difficulty, navigating living his faith in the midst of a hostile king’s regime.
I am quite sure during those early days in Babylon, Daniel was not a hero to his people.
Then, he takes a leading role in that hostile government…now he is really someone to be despised.
Imagine, a Ukrainian, forced into Russia…who then assists Putin, and takes a seat in his government…how would Ukrainians feel about that person?
They would execute him if they could.
Don’t think Daniel’s own people wouldn’t have done the same to him, given the chance.
Now, fast forward about 65 years…Daniel is an old man.
All those who were old when he was first taken into captivity are now long dead.
Daniel has to take a stand of conscience against the new conquering government of Persia.
By now the people have largely acclimated to the culture, many have been born in Babylon, they have homes and business, married Babylonians.
In fact, they are so acclimated that the original 70 years of exile that God had promised…were now going to be extended…because they did not learn to be faithful to God in a hostile culture…they had become submerged in it.
God’s promises…both of blessing and judgment in Scripture…are often conditional.
“If you…then I will.”
Not all, but many.
In chapter 9 Daniel is pleading with God, “Can we go home now? Is it time?”
And a “word to restore and build Jerusalem” (v. 25) would come, but rebuilding the city would not bring all of God’s restoration promises to pass right away.
Most importantly, the high notes of what the prophets foretold would not occur until the distant future…when the Kingdom of Christ would come.
They have not been faithful during exile…many of them had not learned from God’s severe mercy.
So, now back to imagining what Daniel’s life might have been like at this later stage.
Remember, in his teens and early twenties…he was probably called a sell-out, a compromiser, a collaborator…a liberal.
Now in his eighties…he was out of step with the times…he was a conservative, legalist, fundamentalist, whatever.
We know that the people, unlike Daniel, had become “of” not just “in” the world.
Daniel had done the difficult work of remaining faithful to God while navigating a hostile culture.
Many of the people had become unfaithful to God and had joined wholesale into that culture.
They were unable to change it because they were too much a part of it.
You cannot change what you are addicted to.
Not that changing the world is the goal…but being faithful is…and faithfulness is how the world is changed.
You cannot love the world and remain faithful to God.
While his people are surrendering and being submerged into a culture hostile to God.
Daniel meanwhile is quietly remaining faithful even as circumstances and even governments…around him constantly change.
So, the now acclimated to Babylon crowd hear that old Daniel refuses to stop praying to God as the new law demands that he must.
I can imagine these kinds of conversations…
“He is so dogmatic that he can’t even go just thirty days without praying…and why can’t he pray to his God and to the King (faith is faith, doesn’t matter).”
“I mean come on; does he really believe all that Ten Commandment stuff?”
“That was like, a thousand years ago…he needs to get with times…how can an old document, that some old shepherd was supposedly given on a mountain by God apply to us?”
“How can that have any meaning in these modern times…and how can he believe that stuff, come on, it’s the 6th century BC.”
So, Daniel the liberal, who was faithful in culture as a young man…is now Daniel the hyper-fundamentalist, who won’t go along to get along.
Daniel was in fact, the same guy all the way through.
He did not play for the crowd…at 17 or at 80…his aim was to be found faithful.
Don’t try to change the world…just be faithful.
Be faithful in the small times.
Be faithful in the hard times.
Be faithful in the waiting times.
At the end of chapter 4 Nebuchadnezzar is King.
He lost his mind for years because he had put himself above God and was judged for it.
He finally humbled himself and God restored him.
At the beginning of chapter 5 his son, Belshazzar is king, and he is giving a huge banquet for a thousand of the “who’s who” in Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar was a warrior king…he was a general before he was a ruler…he led in the famous battle of Carchemish in 605…were his army defeated Egypt and its allies.
Belshazzar was a banquet king…he was good at throwing parties…even while enemies were at the city gates.
Let’s read, chapter 5:
King Belshazzar held a great feast for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine in their presence. 2 Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar gave orders to bring in the gold and silver vessels that his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, wives, and concubines could drink from them. 3 So they brought in the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, wives, and concubines drank from them. 4 They drank the wine and praised their gods made of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
5 At that moment the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the king’s palace wall next to the lampstand. As the king watched the hand that was writing, 6 his face turned pale, and his thoughts so terrified him that he soiled himself and his knees knocked together. 7 The king shouted to bring in the mediums, Chaldeans, magicians. He said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this inscription and gives me its interpretation will be clothed in purple, have a gold chain around his neck, and have the third highest position in the kingdom.” 8 So all the king’s wise men came in, but none could read the inscription or make its interpretation known to him. 9 Then King Belshazzar became even more terrified, his face turned pale, and his nobles were bewildered.
The queen says, hey there was a guy your father trusted, he may be able to help.
“Get him!” Whimpers the party king.
Daniel is brought before the king and is asked,
“Are you Daniel, one of the Judean exiles that my predecessor the king brought from Judah? 14 I’ve heard that you have a spirit of the gods in you, and that insight, intelligence, and extraordinary wisdom are found in you.”
None of my wise guys have been able to tell me what this writing means…but if you can tell me I will reward you.
17 Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts and give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription for the king and make the interpretation known to him.
The interpretation was…you are a dead man.
- That very night Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans was killed, 31 and Darius the Mede (Cyrus, sire us) received the kingdom.
While the leaders were partying, the Persians were diverting the Euphrates River upstream of the capital, and the army entered the city through the riverbed.
Cyrus’ tomb in Iran is visited by thousands each year…he is still a national hero.
Daniel, now an old man, becomes the lead guy for the Persian government…and is set up by jealous politicians and this leads to the Lion’s den rescue we talked about last week.
But the point today is faithfulness in the waiting times.
Where do we see that in Daniel?
Largely in the white spaces…for instance, between chapter four and five.
In chapter four Daniel is the top guy in Nebuchadnezzar’s government…very involved in his life at a personal level.
-Like a pastor being invited into the White House…pretty heady stuff.
-This has happened many times in history, (Billy Graham, Bill Hybels, others) I don’t judge those who do it…presidents need pastors
-But they better be careful and not become overly impressed by the power of all it.
Look at Proverbs 23:1
When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat if you have a big appetite; don’t desire his choice food,
for that food is deceptive.
The idea is, don’t be taken in by the extravagance, by human power brokers, don’t let your appetite for fame…set you up for a fall.
There is a trap set for you if you fall prey to the king’s wealth and promises.
Daniel doesn’t fall for it…and he is in the inner workings of the highest level of the largest government in the world.
In chapter five the new King doesn’t even know who Daniel is…he has to be told of him by the queen.
What happened in that white space between 4 & 5?
A new king came and will soon go…Daniel meanwhile, kept getting on his knees three times a day to give thanks to God.
He had slipped out of the spotlight…he was put on the shelf…but when he is recalled into actin…he is ready
Suddenly, Daniel is pulled “off the shelf” and he…
- Unimpressed by the King’s flattery
- Rejects the king’s offer of gifts and rewards.
- Honors God
- Is not afraid to speak boldly to the king.
You can keep your gifts…but remember, Nebuchadnezzar was given greatness and power by God…and all peoples, nations, and languages were terrified and fearful of him. He killed anyone he wanted and kept alive anyone he wanted; he exalted anyone he wanted and humbled anyone he wanted.
He became arrogant, was deposed and his glory taken from him. He was driven away from people, his mind was like an animal’s, he lived with the wild donkeys, he was fed grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with dew from the sky until he acknowledged that the Most High God is ruler over human kingdoms and sets anyone he wants over them. 22 “But you his successor, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this.”
Daniel didn’t respond with.
“I’m back! Finally, I get back into the palace, I am somebody again!”
“I’m back in play…don’t count old Daniel out yet.”
No, he was unimpressed, and not trying to be impressive…he was just faithful.
He had seen a powerful king…humbled like a donkey…he would see this one in front of him, the one offering to buy him off…killed by a new powerful king…who would be killed…and so on and so on
What had Daniel done in the white spaces between chapter 4 and 5…he had trained his heart to trust God.
Coaches have long said, you will play like you practice.
Daniel responded like this because while he was on the shelf, he was faithful.
During the waiting times…be faithful.
Being faithful during those times doesn’t mean…count the days until God gives you something significant to do.
Being faithful is always the most significant thing you can do.
Daniel was called up for service to another king…but he was not living for the approval of men, his heart was clearly set on the approval of God.
How many athletes, politicians, entertainers, business leaders have we seen over the years who melt down when they have to leave the limelight?
They have become addicted to the applause of people…and when it moves on to someone else…they are undone.
I saw a film recently when some long-retired baseball stars were brought out on field like a living museum, and they exalted in having been “remembered”…one who was not invited was unhappy about not having been in the group that day.
They will all soon be long forgotten.
Daniel would have none of that nonsense…he had trained his whole life to play for a crowd of one…the applause of God was what mattered to him.
Studying to understand a new culture, in his room praying, in the lion’s den, forgotten for years, yanked back into service…it was all the same.
My Dad ran around the world for years…one year his job took him to London 14 times, along with trips to other countries and all over our country…he spent 260 nights that year in hotels.
He knew high ranking government officials in the US and in other countries.
Then, fast forward…he stayed by my mom’s side…rarely leaving west Wichita as he cared for her during her years of cancer.
He applied the same passion and intensity to those years that he did to building pipelines and running companies.
Then she died…he was undone…for weeks, months, years…he never really recovered.
He finally got out into the world…mostly the world of meeting with people, sitting beside dying men in hospitals, sitting in coffee shops, giving away flowers and candy.
Far from the limelight…on the shelf so to speak…he was faithful.
He applied the same passion and intensity to those years as he always had.
He would come to my house and ask me questions about how to help this person or that.
Then he died…in pain, stuck in bed…not a jet setting businessman, people lined up outside his office…a faithful man whose days here were now over.
He was sometimes foolish as a young man and as an older man…he would be the first to tell you that.
Daniel was no perfect man…we can assume there were plenty of bad choices in his life.
But my dad was faithful…Daniel was faithful…direction not perfection…we can be faithful as well.
So, I want to conclude with three mental hooks for thinking about how to be faithful during the slow times, hard times, and the waiting times…in other words…all the time.
- Being faithful means you must play for an audience of one.
Galatians 1:10 “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
This doesn’t mean you can be a contrarian, arrogant, unteachable.
None of that is being faithful.
What it means is that as you listen to people, seek to understand them, try to befriend them…you seek to please God above all else.
People will disagree with you, sometimes attack you, misjudge you, misrepresent you.
“You are too liberal; you are too conservative…you are too much this or that.”
You can get all that on the same day.
Just be faithful.
Be humble, be generous, be teachable…but in the end…it only matters what God thinks of you.
Remember, many people, if you live a faithful life, will walk with you and will be your allies.
We sometimes forget these faithful friends and pay too much attention to the one person who is against us.
There is something wrong with the person who doesn’t care at all what others think…of course it bothers you when people malign you.
But to be faithful we must decide…I will choose to care most about what God thinks of me.
Again, this is no excuse to be a fool and disregard good advice…that is not faithfulness.
But you cannot move through life playing to this crowd and then to that one…worrying about that person’s criticism and then to that one.
Live with conviction…do it with a smile…don’t be an angry, belligerent person of conviction.
Be a happy convinced person…whose heart, more and more, cares only what God thinks.
- Being faithful means you must get the key before you see the door
For many years I had reoccurring dream where I was on the sidelines at a WSU football game.
Suddenly coach calls my name, “Williams, you’re in!”
I can’t find my helmet…coach is yelling, there are helmets everywhere…but I can’t find mine…I miss my chance.
I know there are variations on this dream…finding yourself in a classroom and you forgot to put on pants or study for a test.
Even our dreams warn us…be ready…or at least betray a deep fear…of not being ready when opportunity comes.
Faithfulness is about readiness.
Readiness is hard because we are working to get a key to a door that we don’t even know will be there, after all that work.
Kairos was the Greek god of opportunity.
The word Kairos means the “right time” “God’s time” versus chronos which is simply chronological time.
He was depicted in a word picture as having a long lock of hair in the front and bald in the back…he had wings and moved quickly.
The idea is that you must seize him as he comes towards you once he has passed it is too late.
It’s just a myth and word picture…but of course there is truth in it.
- I once had an AF pilot tell me that he would NOT do Air War College because there was no guarantee he would make Colonel after all that effort.
-I said, “Well I can’t guarantee you will make colonel if you do it, I can guarantee you won’t make colonel if you don’t.”
“What,” I asked, “Does God want you to do.”
Perhaps he doesn’t know what he should do…but he was looking at it wrong.
“Show me the door, promise me the door, then I will go get the key.”
That is not how it works.
No… what does faithfulness look like now.
- I want to marry this kind of man or woman.
-Are you actively, faithfully becoming the kind of man or woman that this person would want to marry?
Or are you just hanging out…when he or she shows up…you will get ready then to be “marriable.”
“Show me the door, then I’ll work on getting the key.”
- I want to be faithful when hard times come. I want to finish well. I want to die with hope and courage someday.
-Are you proactively, faithfully…seeking God, putting your hope in him, repenting when you put your hope in yourself?
You will play…in those last moments or in those hard moments…like you practice.
Daniel was getting that universal key to any future door…that key is called “be faithful today”
Be faithful…this will often mean making hard choices to train, sacrifice, learn…when no one is looking, when there is no promise of “pay off.”
But wait, there is a promise of pay off…”Well, done, good and faithful servant.”
The last one…
- Faithfulness is being a thermostat not merely a thermometer.
Thermometer’s measure temp, thermostats set it.
Thermometers change to reflect the environment; thermostats change the environment.
I understand that a thermostat has no power to warm your house…it has to be connected to a heat source, the furnace has the power to change the temperature.
No analogy is perfect…they are designed to be memorable not scientifically accurate,
This point is closely tied the first one, play to an audience of one.
Here I’m zeroing in on how we are to deal with a hostile culture…whether at the macro level (America, Iran, China) or the micro level in my classroom or living room or office.
How do we live in and not of culture faithfully?
Years ago, a pastor wrote about:
Culture or the world.
Christ above is where the church retreats from the world, since we do not want to be overtaken by it and we are fearful of it…we simply flee from it.
We isolate ourselves as best we can from its negative influences…so Christ above (or out of)
Christ below is where the church capitulates to the world around it.
Since we can’t beat them, we must join them.
Like the Pope’s recent capitulation to same sex relationships in a desire to remain relevant.
The right approach is to be “in” but not “of” the world.
Christ in culture.
This is the model we have in Daniel…and better yet, in Jesus himself.
This is not easy, and you will likely make enemies on all sides…but it is the way of Christ.
“The world hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I am not praying that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”
Practically speaking, how do we survive here “in” but not “of” the world?
One last analogy.
A deep-sea diver can go into the deep and withstand tremendous water pressure…by having a connection, a life source, that is outside the ocean itself.
They cannot breathe water and they cannot withstand the pressures…unless they have an oxygen line that goes to the surface and supplies them with the life they need to live in an environment they were not made to live in.
Now we are back to where we started this short series…Biblical intake…truth is absolutely neccesary.
But we actually have three key resources to live faithfully in but not of the world.
We have God’s word, God’s people, and God’s spirit.
If we stop getting biblical intake, or if we disconnect from biblical community, or if we, through unconfessed sin disconnected from God’s spirit…we are not going to be able to survive the pressures of life in this world.
I’ve called this series, “Don’t try to change the world, just be faithful.”
My wording was about the focal point…we are to focus on faithfulness, that is how the world is changed.
But changing the world is not our concern, faithfulness is.
A thermostat is designed to change the room temp not merely measure it or be changed by it.
We can be people who are able to set the climate wherever they go…but it will require being consistently, faithfully plugged into the resources of God.
His Word, His People, His spirit.
Abiding in the power of the Spirit…by ongoing obedience, including…mess up, fess up, move on.
Engage them for a long time…and watch what happens in your life.
A final word on Biblical community.
Daniel was misunderstood and often isoloated…but Shadrach, Mesarch, and Abednego were his friends.
If he only had these three friends who shared his courage of conviction that was enough.
Do you have such a circle?
It may be a small one but that is really all it takes to live with courage.
Maybe there are those who dislike or judge you.
Maybe there are those who misunderstand and misrepresent you.
Do you pay too much attention to them, or do you look to the people God has given you who “have your back”?
You don’t need the whole world and you certainly don’t need the World Wide Web to love you, you will be fine if you have the love of God and the love of a friend or two.
As we end this short series…consider this…
Are you on the shelf? Do you feel set aside…under utilized?
It has been said that everyone God uses he puts on the shelf for a time to deepen them.
In most lives there are more than one periods of time where we feel “set aside.”
Very often these times on the shelf are followed by times of much greater activity and involvement. It can be difficult to be content on the shelf.
It can be even more difficult to be proactive during this “white space times” in seeking God and growing in preparation for what is next.
Perhaps you are busy and active and would like a little “shelf” time.
Be sure that you are content and faithful in this time of active ministry and busyness of life.
Do not let the busyness distract you from the real “business” of being faithful.
God doesn’t need or want you to merely be busy, he wants you to be faithful.
If you feel like you are on the shelf, set aside and unused, will you be faithful? Will you seek to serve in whatever ways God provides?
Will you proactively seek greater depth of relationship with God during this time?
If your life is busy…will you refuse to be distracted from the core purpose of your life…be faithful?
Do not waste any season God leads you into.
Just as the seasons of the calendar all have their purpose…so too the different seasons of your life all have their purpose.
Be faithful in them all.