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Daniel – Living distinctively

February 8, 2014

Old Testament Heroes – Daniel

 

What do you think of when you think of Daniel? Lion’s den? Weird prophecies? Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego and the fiery furnace?

 

Suggest that none of the later more spectacular things of the later chapters of Daniel would have taken place, if we did not have the events of Chapter 1.

 

For Daniel it was a new beginning, a new country, a new situation – a nation taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians – sounds like a 50’s rock n roll band!

 

At the start of a New Year and we’re being encouraged to make all sorts of resolutions. The possibilities are endless. I received an email this week from Amazon giving a huge list of what they called New year Resolution books. Including….

 

  • Teach yourself etiquette and good manners
  • Teach yourself to live (?!)
  • Teach yourself thrifty living
  • Boxing fitness – a guide to getting fit
  • How to grow your own food
  • How to get a celeb’s body
  • How the rich get thin
  • Piano for dummies
  • AA theory test
  • Quit smoking today without gaining weight
  • Eat yourself clever
  • Teach yourself training your brain
  • Teach yourself happiness
  • I can make you thin
  • Instant confidence
  • Change your life in 7 days
  • I can mend your broken heart

 

I am never sure that God is that interested in New Years. Do God and his angels get excited at the countdown to midnight on 31 December? I doubt it. But I do believe this – God IS interested in new starts. Jesus of course told Nicodemus “you must be born again”. Oh and yes there is a party in heaven when one sinner repents. And wherever we are God is always waiting for us, like the father of the prodigal son, for us to return and start again.

 

You can have a new start on 1 January. You can have a new start on July 17th. The timing is not important, but early in the New Year is as good a time as any to get right with God.

 

As we said, for Daniel it was all new. A new country, new challenges. For you it may be a new year, a new job, a new relationship, a new neighbour, a new situation. Who knows what we will face in 2008. But it’s not so much WHAT we face, as HOW we face it. Daniel had some amazing experiences, but this was almost certainly because of the way he started. The miraculous survival, the apocalyptic visions, all stemmed from a simple decision made about what meal Daniel and his friends would choose from the menu.

 

A privileged position. An amazing opportunity – not just to be a captive, but to be someone in this New World. We all face choices, and will do as much in 2008 as ever. How will we live? There were doubtless those of God’s people who wanted nothing to do with Babylonian culture and kept themselves out and well away. Probably too there were those who threw themselves into Babylonian life and compromised everything they believed in. God’s people have always done that!

 

That challenge is still there for us. Scripture makes it clear that we live in a foreign land. This world is not my home. So how do we react, do we withdraw completely and have nothing to do with the people around us. Or do we throw ourselves into everything, determined to be friends with the world. Jesus prayed that God would not take his followers out of the world, but would protect them from the evil one. There have been many down the years who have chosen to have nothing to do with the world in which God has placed them, or on the other hand to compromise their beliefs and become just like everyone else. I am sure we can think of examples of both. The Biblical challenge is different to that, and much more difficult, as Jesus put it, to be IN the world, but not OF it.

 

We will face being misunderstood and we will make mistakes. We may get no credit or thanks for acts of kindness. But how will the church get anywhere if it does not connect with the world? And how will it get anywhere if it is in no way distinctive from the world around? A lot of this is relevant to what Ed Kaneen was speaking about recently. How do we engage with the world humbly in a way which expresses God’s justice and mercy?

 

Like Daniel we need wisdom to get it right. So what actually did Daniel do? He grasped the opportunity which came his way and in so doing became God’s man in the right place at the right time and hugely influenced Babylonian life. He made a choice. He rejected the ‘rich food’ and wine of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace and plumped for vegetables and water. This is not a comment about vegetarianism. Jesus would later make it clear that food could not defile someone, that to eat meat sacrificed to idols was a matter of conscience, some would eat, some would not. There are absolutes in Christian living, but in may areas we do not have a rule book, we have to work out for ourselves how our faith reflects itself. It may be that you will not watch what I watch. Perhaps you will spend your money on something I would not feel comfortable about. Maybe she will not go where he goes. He would not feel comfortable working where his friend does. But somewhere for each of us there will be areas where we draw a line. In some way our faith must show itself in ways that mark us out.

 

In many ways Christians have often been marked out not by the things they do, but by the long list of things they can’t do. I do not believe that God requires us to withdraw completely from life. How else do we show that justice and mercy. I remember once someone in church going to some lengths to describe how we should be friendly but not friends with non-Christians. Jesus, the friend of sinners made no such distinctions. On the contrary he has put us where we are for a reason. But there will be times where we have to make a stand, and say ‘ I will not cross that line’.

 

Take Eric Liddell, the athlete. We may never have to make a decision about running an Olympic race on a Sunday. But stands will be there to be made. Living a distinctive lifestyle. Eric Liddell was reminded that ‘He who honours me I will honour’, and of course he got his gold medal. He made a stand for God, and continued his life and died as a missionary.

 

Daniel was honoured too. The evidence was there for all to see. God was with Daniel & Co. And they went from strength to strength. But the choices they made were just the beginning for them. Fiery furnaces, dens of lions, visions of the end times – the lot. The stand you make tomorrow, the decision you make today could be just the beginning for you. An apparently small gesture could open up a whole new world.

 

I remember when I started my job, someone gave me some forthright advice, which I never forgot.’ Don’t bother telling your colleagues that you are a Christian in 12 months time. If they don’t know by then, you have failed!’ To the point! But how do we show our  faith in our daily lives. I like sometimes to surprise people by the things I will do as a Christian, whether it’s to drink a glass of wine with them or to share a joke. But I know there are things they don’t involve me in, because I’ve drawn a line there. Those are the sort of challenges all of us face – to live relevantly, but to live distinctively. It’s a lifelong challenge.

 

Let’s pray that individually and as a church, we will be ready to face the challenges of living in the world, being relevant, different and making a difference

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