Sunday August 7, 2011
Have you ever found yourself in a difficult situation and had to try and figure out how to get yourself out of it?
I came across this sign from Glendora Friends Church: "God's mercy is no excuse for careless living."
How easy it is for us to get careless in the way we live, behave and make choices because we are counting that God will extend mercy to us and bail us out. On the one hand, though, I need God's mercy for me to live the kind of life of holiness I am called to live. On the other hand, though, I am to be a responsible believer in Christ who is not putting God on the spot.
I've found myself in my share of problems that defied answers. Like the time I disobeyed my legal guardians when visiting my girlfriends. The roads were still icy and I wanted to go to see her- otherwise I might just die! They told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to drive the car anywhere else but straight to her farmhouse and back. The side roads were too unpredictable. So what did I do? I drove my hot girlfriend around and all of a sudden found myself spinning in circles and plunking my 1974 Vega right into a ditch on River Road.
So what do I do now? We logically called her parents but her dad was gone and her cousin Joe was gone as well. I have no money to pay for a wrecker- unless I call home. I have no means of pulling the car out of the ditch- unless I call home. I have no means whatsoever- unless I call home.
I was in deep trouble! I honestly believed that God played with my life in those moments that felt like hours. Everybody that stopped were just making sure we were okay. And the only ones that acted like they might help us seemed to be more intent on kidnapping us- at least they seemed that scary.
Finally, who comes trucking down the road but cousin Joe! PTL! He hooked the chain up and had that little gutless wonder of a car out of the ditch in no time. My life was spared! I would live to have children.
Now that seems like a great story of mercy and perhaps so. I was in a situation of which I was totally out of control but yet had put myself into. I could credit God and rightfully so- but I also should recognize my disobedience as well.
The situation Daniel and his brothers found themselves in was one of incredible complexity. It was not of their own doing that their lives were in danger. Here King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that is perplexing and he wants an answer. "Well, King, tell us the dream and we'll give you an answer," his Chaldean priests and magicians told him. I think that's fair. How would I like it if you showed up to my office and said, "Pastor I have a problem and I need your help." "Yes, my brother, I'll help you. What's the problem?" "If you can really help me then you tell me what my problem is." I would think you're nuts if you expect me to help you with your issues and not give me some information.
The king does this though because, well, he's the king and he can make the rules. This endangers all of the priests, magicians and royal workers- including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The king was not satisfied and so the killing has begun.
Word quickly gets to Daniel. He appeals to the king and buys some time. But he knows the situation is grave with a king who seems to have this "god-complex."
And so we pick up the narrative and see that…
God's Mercy Extended by the King.
The Chinese Bible scholar from the 1940's, Witness Lee, wrote this in his book "Life Study of Romans": "Our going on with the Lord is a matter not of our willing or running, but of God's mercy. Our willing is of no avail, and our running is in vain. God's mercy, however, works in a wonderful way."
How easy it is for us to think that we have the power and the stamina and everything needed to get through the troubles in life! What we need is God's mercy and oftentimes God's mercy is exemplified by others in our lives.
For Daniel, for his Hebrew buddies and even for those who hate him, God's mercy is extended to all of them by the king. And without the king realizing it.
Isn't that amazing? Just when a godless world may think they got beyond the reach of God he chooses you use any one of them to enable His purposes and His will in the life of His people and especially in these days, in the life of the Church.
My wife's cardiologist has been used over and over to save her life and they are Sikhs from India. When she was in her coma a few years ago the lead doctor seemed to scoff about my people "doing what they do best and that is to pray." On and on we can go about how God uses people to further his plans. Look at the Israelites and the favor they received from the Egyptian people prior to the exodus- they gave the Israelites gold and jewelry; items they would need for negotiations and purchases as they journeyed into foreign territory.
Amazingly, so often God is in such control of circumstances that he is able to reach down and move the hearts of those in our circumstances. And I want to assure all of us that regardless of state we find ourselves in, God has not abandoned us. He uses the foolish and simple to confound the wise and he will surely do what he must in your life and those around you.
Something else that is at work behind the scenes is this:
God's Mercy Prayed for by Friends.
One of the greatest comforts for my family over the years has been the joy of knowing that you- our family and friends- have been praying for us. We have never questioned if you care enough to pray. We know you do.
And I would hope that any of us realizes that as a family we stick together best through prayer. We may disagree, we may frustrate one another and we may irritate each other but when the devil messes with any of us he messes with family.
Daniel knew he could count on his friends to be praying. We know that there is a difference between care and prayer.
To care is to acknowledge your trouble; to pray is to take your trouble to God.
To care is to identify with you and your problem; to pray is to identify the problem with Christ's suffering.
To care is to be there the best we can; to pray is to ask God's presence to be there because he can be there all of the time.
Mercy is what we all long for and we all long for God's people to be in prayer on our behalf.
Something else we see happening is of utmost important for every Christ-follower:
God's Mercy Blessed by Praise.
I love what the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10- However, as it is written: "What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived"—the things God has prepared for those who love him— 10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
God does not desire for us to be in the dark about Him and his character. God desires that we not simply know him in more ways than knowledge but to know God in relationship.
- Wisdom & Power belong to God. I love to meet people in high places. I love to read the things people in high places have written. I love to know people in high places. How cool is it to be able to say that you've had a personal meeting with Dr. Joanne Lyon? Or have sat with Dr. Tom and Vangie Armiger at a dinner? But that's nothing in comparison to the relationship that is ours with a God who possesses ALL wisdom and power. What we earthlings possess is nil in relationship to Him.
- Ultimately in control. The world teaches us to be the kind of people and leaders who pull strings and make things happen. We celebrate people that do that; buy their books, go to their conferences and quote them in sermons. Democrats and Republicans do everything they can to influence elections and increase their own power in politics- but they are not in control. God is in control. And I don't know about you but I would much rather know and believe that God has control of the circumstances of my life- my life in the scope of eternity. I may not understand the details and the problems but I do know that I don't have to fear because God has it all taken care of.
- Giver of Revelation. I cannot really know God in a relational manner unless he reveals himself to me. God shows us through his word, through sermons, through various means HIMSELF. God used a burning bush to get Moses' attention, a donkey to direct Balaam and a big fish to get Jonah on the right track. The question is: are we listening when God speaks? C.S. Lewis made this point: "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
- Giver of Spiritual Life. Daniel says in verse 23- "I thank You and praise You, O God of my fathers." He recognizes that unless there were those spiritual leaders before him he would not be where he is today. When was the last time you thanked God for the blessing of spiritual heritage that you partake of as a result of some man or woman long before you who travailed in prayer and gave of themselves in Christian service so that you might know Christ personally?
Daniel's prayer reveals so much about God and his personal mercy for Daniel and for us as well. In this case, God chooses to give Daniel the answer that he needs in order to work in the ways that he does.
God's Mercy Answered through Prayer.
Most forget that eventually King Nebuchadnezzar turns his heart to God. This occasion was used as a means by which God uses to breakdown the king and bring him to a place of humility. God gives Daniel the answer because God has a greater goal in mind than that of saving Daniel's skin.
We must put life's situations within God's context of his eternal purposes. I would much rather see a man die of cancer and go to heaven than live a healthy life with the cancer of sin and go to hell. In the long run let's give God the benefit of the doubt and simply trust him.
How do you and I live a life of mercy received and mercy given?
- Know that you are not alone. We all are in need of God's mercy. We are fragile human beings who are frustrated by the struggles of living. Life takes its toll but we are in the same boat as so many others. But an even greater truth is that God is in the boat with you.
- Mercy can be ignored and lost forever. How often have any of us witnessed people who were given the mercy of God and yet ignored the God who extended the mercy?
- Mercy can be given, received and change us forever. The kind of mercy God gives is life-changing: when you receive his mercy your whole world becomes different.
And I suppose that is where the heart of the answer to life's difficulties is found: mercy. When God reaches his hand of love into our soul and saves us from sin we become different people.
How will you utilize the mercy of God that has been extended to you?
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who
have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
Whatever your problem of pain and suffering, whatever your past sins- WHATEVER it is in your life, God wants to take those things or that one thing and work for the good. Why? Because you are called according to the purpose of his full salvation. Our goal is to have healing, enough money or the strength to endure; God's goal is that we would made more and more like his Son Jesus Christ. Our goal is to not suffer anymore; God's goal is that you would know what it is to share in the fellowship of Christ's sufferings. Our goal is to be more comfortable; God's goal is for us to have a clear conscience.