Wednesday, August 10, 2011

DISCOVERING ANSWERS IN GOD’S MERCY

Sunday August 7, 2011

Daniel 2:16-24

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?

Romans 8:28-29

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.

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

Sunday July 24, 2011

Daniel 11:32-33

As Christians, we often live in tension with the world around us. Jesus taught us that we are "in the world but not of this world'' (John 18:36), we are sent into the world to preach the gospel, baptize new believers and disciple (Matt. 28:19-20; John 17:18). Yet, while we are in this world we are to remain unpolluted by it (James 1:27). We are to be obedient citizens of earthly governments (I Peter 2:13-17), yet at times we must choose to "obey God rather than men'' (Acts 5:29; 4:19).

Like other people who are not saved, we face similar issues that they face: physical debilitations, financial shortcomings, emotional roller coasters, temptations and the like. And, once again, we face these situations with a different perspective because we have the love of God residing in our lives and we are filled with hope by the Holy Spirit.

Because of such tensions, difficult questions arise. Why do the righteous suffer? Why do we feel as though God has abandoned us? What do we do with the human suffering that we see others face and at times we face.

While grappling with questions like these, we can draw insight, strength and encouragement from the stories of God's people through the ages who have dealt with similar issues. In the scripture text before us, the background is found in one of the books that is very common to the Roman Catholic Bible- the Apocrypha that speaks of such an incredible story. It comes to us from the second century B.C., a time when faithful followers of God faced severe persecution, and the future of the Jews as a distinct people seemingly hung in the balance. I shared a bit of this story from the book of First Maccabees last year some time.

Daniel 11:32-33- 32 Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. 33 And those of the people who understand shall instruct many; yet for many days they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering.

Now I realize that as Wesleyans and Protestants that we do not utilize certain books as Biblical authority such as our Roman Catholic friends down the road. However, Bible scholars and even Wesleyan Bible scholars have made use of them in historical research.

First Maccabees covers a period of a little over forty years in Jewish history, beginning with when King Antiochus IV ascended to the Seleucid throne in 175 B.C. to become the Syrian royalty. This book concentrates on the exploits of one priestly family-Mattathias and his sons Judas Maccabeus, Jonathan, Simon, John, and Eleazar; Simon and his son John Hyrcanus.

Mattathias's sons, known collectively as the Maccabees, rescued the Jerusalem temple from pagan hands and eventually gained political independence for the Jews. They founded the Hasmonean dynasty, which provided political and spiritual leadership for Israel that was leading towards the time of Christ.

We must understand, as Francis Schaeffer pointed out in one of his books, that we live and make history. True, your life and your battle against evil likely will never reach the annals of world history, American history, Michigan history, Oceana Count history but they will be reviewed on the day of judgment when God judges all of humanity and our hearts. We are making history even in very small ways to the world but in huge ways to our family members who watch our every move, to those in our friendship circle, to the Church and the community.

What Daniel writes in these verses and those before and after, is a prophecy. He has received a vision about the future of God's people. Remember, Daniel and his friends have been taken captive to Babylon. They are basically slaves to a different nation due to the sin of God's people. However, a day is coming when they will have their nation back again. And when they do there will be challenges that will come their way. These Jews who stood up against the terrible persecution and desecration of the Temple worship that they participated in was part of this vision that Daniel speaks of.

And I cannot help but believe that this prophecy is not only intended to speak of the Maccabees and their revolution to restore Israel and maintain the true worship of God, but also for us as we face struggles and frustrations in these last days. As I was pecking out the beginning stages of this sermon I called the Hilliard home and learned of the news that their 38 year old son's cancer has grown.

And I wondered then: "How in the world do you answer this, preacher man, as you speak about overcoming obstacles?"

All of us face obstacles of various kinds and at different times that we are called on to overcome:

  • Spiritual development- knowing Christ, growing in Christ and sharing Christ
  • Physical challenges- surgeries, injuries, healings, sicknesses, disease
  • Financial limitations- lost jobs, loss of income, not enough income, increasing obligations
  • Trials, temptations & tribulations- tests of our faith, temptations to sin, all out persecution of our faith in Christ.

And then we as a Church face obstacles to being everything God calls us to be. We must face and overcome:

  • Congregational energy- We need people whose best years- physically- are behind them; the younger ones of us battling "schedule fatigue" (getting Christ and his church in the right priority). We're all busy but what are we busy with? God's ministry needs people to "work 'til the night is coming" because the "fields are white with harvest."
  • Church membership- We need people willing to take the next steps and give of themselves totally to the advancement of God's kingdom. We need younger people to be willing to surrender of themselves and step up to a new level of not only Christian living but also of Christian service.
  • Structural concepts- refreshing the ways in which we do ministry especially with the reframing of how Manantial de Vida will operate. The way we do church is critical to fulfilling our mission.
  • Ministry growth- Seeing the Lord add to our number "daily those who are being saved." (Acts 2:42) There are great things happening among our young people and their children that involves our kids ministry. But there are also other areas of ministry that need attention so that we can see Church growth.
  • Financial obligations- Procuring the necessary resources we need to fulfill our commitments. Too often our treasurer is having incorporate accounting gymnastics to make sure things and people are paid for. You want to know what us pastors say to each other about money issues? "If everyone tithed there would be no financial shortage."
  • Faith that God is still at work. Sometimes we can begin to feel as though that because we aren't the church we used to be that we cannot become the church that we ought to be. I don't say this with a wagging finger

Of course, I could go on and on. In fact, some of you are probably adding a few others that you are doing. But the point is that there are obstacles to overcome both personally and corporately.

All of these challenge our faith whether they be life-threatening or not.

Sure, we are not in the days of the Maccabees where the Jews were offered both opportunities and temptations due to the new Greek society that had been impressed on them and the world by Alexander the Great. On the one hand, Jewish thought ultimately was greatly enriched by certain Greek concepts. A prime example is the Greek idea that "the hidden law governing the entire universe is divine reason, logos, and the moral task of humanity is to live a life of conformity to this divine reason, which is the law of ethics as well as the law of nature'' [Torah 5]. Jewish thinkers, beginning with the author of Sirach in the early second century B.C., identified the underlying universal law as God's Torah (see especially Sirach 24). In this way, the Greek concept led to the exaltation of the God of Israel and the promotion of his inspired word.

On the other hand, Greek influence- more commonly called Hellenism- created temptations for God's people to compromise certain aspects of the Law by creating questions similar to the serpent and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We are always on dangerous ground when we start questioning in the wrong way the Biblical principles and values that strengthen our faith. For the Jews in those days they began to abandon the boundaries concerning the Sabbath; families did not have their sons circumcised, and they began to introduce things to their daily food that Old Testament diet laws forbid. These issues, especially, set them apart as a unique and distinct people.

But you know how things go. By remaining separate from the Gentiles, some reasoned, Jews were missing out on the wealth and prestige afforded by Hellenism. But then on the other hand, but involving themselves with an outside culture they reaped benefits but also endangered their faith.

We face similar issues. For some, receiving government assistance bothers them because they feel beholden to the government but yet also realize that for survival's sake they need to do something. We want to believe by faith in God for healing and yet we also put ourselves in the hands and sometimes at the mercy of doctors and hospitals in our search for healing and a better quality of life.

However, there are lines that we realize we must not cross.

How do we as 21st century Christians who not only believe in Jesus Christ but strive to follow after him? The first aspect of overcoming obstacles is this:

KNOW YOUR GOD.

Let's consider the second half of Daniel 11:32- "but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits."

Are you a person who knows your God?

So often we can find ourselves simply content with reading our devotional scripture and calling that good. However, as a child of God you need to know Him more and seek Him more.

  • To know God is the highest and best form of knowledge. There is a human thirst to know something- even the things we should not know. Humanity prides itself on its learning capabilities. Charles Spurgeon said in his sermon concerning this passage: "…strive with diligence to learn more and more of the higher Truths of God."


     

  • To know God means that I am going to know His Son. My life verse is actually two verses together in Philippians 3:10-11- I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead. I have experienced in my life the joy of knowing Christ. Not that I feel like I have achieved everything set out for me, but I can tell you that even in my toughest times, I want to know Christ.
  • To know God calls for me to experience the filling of His Holy Spirit. It is only by the leading of the Holy Spirit that I am able to learn spiritual things.
  • To know God requires of you to study His Words. There is a Biblical illiteracy among Christians that is rather embarrassing. Our culture no longer views the Bible as something sacred but just another book among many books. You might be saying, "I read the Bible but I don't understand it." That is the time you seek the Holy Spirit's assistance but also you need to get involved in a Bible study where a Spirit-led teacher is able to guide you.

There is something different about the person who knows their God. There is a confidence of faith that is unshakeable even in the face of the most dire of circumstances. I pray that you would be that person who knows their God in a very real and personal way. (Oftentimes it becomes more real and clear during the furnaces of life.)

Not only does Daniel point to the people who know their God but tells us about their character and what our character should be:

BE STRONG IN THE LORD.

Let's look at our scripture text again: "but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits."

The Apostle Paul seems to echo Daniel- whether he intended to do so or not- by saying in Ephesians 6:10- Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

  • Knowing who God is gives us a confidence of faith.
  • Our confidence of faith gives us victory in battle.
  • Our victory in battle testifies to the power of God.

The power of God is the work of the Holy Spirit.

LIVE BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

"but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits."

How do you feel about carrying out great exploits? Kind of scary, huh? Who does God think we are? Indiana Jones? Zorro? The Lone Ranger?

Let's check out Galatians 5. This particular chapter is one of those key chapters in the Bible that is very important to every believer about how to live the Christian life. Now if you don't want to mark in your Bible, I understand. But I believe every Christian should have these verses highlighted in some way in their Bible as well as in their heart:

Verse 16-18 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever
you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Verses 22-25- 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Again, some feel awkward about this and that's okay. Take time to write these verses out and post them in your bathroom mirror, on your refrigerator and anywhere else that you might see them on a regular basis.

For God's people, the power of God is proven through the power of the Holy Spirit as he works in and through our lives. Whatever we face in life we can still live a holy life that please our Lord. Wherever we find ourselves we can be overcomers with power. Whenever the problems arise and the obstacles show themselves, we will not be hindered because "…there is more with us than be with them- we're on the winning side!"

When we face obstacles we will win every time with the Holy Spirit empowering us. In the world's eyes and by its standards they might see us as losers. But in the eyes of God and in the eyes of those who are being saved, victory is not found in physical healings, financial gains or emotional highs but is found in the believer who lives by faith, who loves their God and neighbor and is filled with a hope that is not found in this world.

CONCLUSION- The Word of our Testimony

So how do we win in a world controlled by sin? We win by the testimony of our lives. We may lose court cases, we may lose our health, we may lose money and resources, we may even lose our lives but we will not lose our citizenship in the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ as long as we 1) Know our God; 2) Are strong in the Lord; and 3) Live by the Power of the Holy Spirit.

Notice what happens when God's people like you and I take serious our faith in Christ:

33And those of the people who understand shall instruct many…

We tell and teach others God's ways

Revelation 12:11- They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Be so in love with God that you will not deny him in the face of dangers or in the midst of stardom. Be so filled with his strength and power of the Holy Spirit that in spite of the turmoil all around you will stand firm and your faith will remain unshaken.

At District Conference I and others received a wrist band that simply says "Overcoming Obstacles." This is the theme of our District this year and I plan to get into a bit of what Pastor Tom spoke about.

This is a reminder to me of my commitment to overcoming obstacles by the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the one thing that God spoke to my heart about was overcoming negativity in my thinking because it affects my faith. What's interesting is back in May I had projected that today's message would be titled "Overcoming Negativity." This week I changed it to "Overcoming Obstacles" because so many of you are facing difficulties to overcome and we as a Church face them as well.

What obstacle lies in front of your faith today? Are you willing to surrender yourself to God and say, "With the help of the Holy Spirit I will fight the good fight of faith and overcome the obstacles that lie in front of me. I will get to know God better and as I do I will grow stronger in my faith in Jesus Christ and I know that the Holy Spirit will be able to do great things through my life for the glory of God."

If so, come forward, make your public commitment to God and receive this wrist band as a reminder of the commitment you are making to God and to yourself.

Overcoming Moral Dilemmas

Sunday July 31, 2011

Daniel 1

In your life you will face moral dilemmas in which you are called on by God to obey. What those challenges will be are in a large part the character development of who you are- or more likely who you used to be before coming to Christ by faith.

When we come to Christ something begins to change in our life. A character development begins to happen that shapes who we really are in Christ Jesus. Without Christ how can we be expected to do otherwise? Satan is like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. And if you do not have Christ in your life, you in danger of making choices that will not honor God.

Daniel and his three companions had been carried from the royal palace of Jerusalem by an enemy country. Can you imagine if you were captured and taken to Iran to serve in the government there? How would you respond to the moral implications that would certainly arise?

Dr. Shlamo Sher of the University of Southern California and the Levin Institute for Humanities and Ethics wrote an interesting article from which I have drawn a few thoughts to aid in this message today. He says that the process that leads to effective moral action and decision making can be roughly divided into three components:

  1. Moral awareness. This is the process of identifying the ethical issues involved, the parties who have a stake in the action, what is at stake, and what the action options are.
  2. Moral judgment. This is the process of weighing out the ethical considerations that bear on the situation and determining the moral course of action.
  3. Acting in accordance with that judgment. This is deciding that the right thing to do is not enough. One still needs to form the intention to do the moral thing and deal with the practical obstacles in order to act effectively.

Realize that just as God's people such as Daniel and the other three Hebrew boys were facing a moral dilemma that they needed to overcome, so do God's people in the 21st century.

Overcoming Obstacles of Self.

Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself. (NKJV) Daniel resolved not to defile himself (NIV)

Before any of us can truly live a life of good conscience before God and humanity, we must be willing to settle certain moral aspects in our own heart and life. It's not good enough to say, "Well, when the time comes I'll stand for what's right." No, you have to be willing to purpose in your heart as Daniel did to stand for what's right now.

This is not always easy. But if you overcome the hurdle of self-interest before God you are on your way.

The idea that is set forth in verse 8 is very important for us to understand. Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself. What was the problem?

The Babylonians thought very highly of their royal workers of which these young men were captured to be a part. This meant that they would be fed the best of food that this pagan nation had. Nothing wrong with that. They had these young men's best interests in mind. The problem was that the food of the Babylonians included items that were against the dietary laws of the Jews. To indulge in these foods was not only to eat something that was forbidden but also food that had been offered to idols and to participate in this would be to honor these pagan deities. Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not compromise his values by being untrue to God's call of commitment.

Now I have to admit, not being a Jew, I have a hard time understanding exactly what's going on here. If I'm in a prison starving to death I'll eat just about anything- I've heard enough stories about starvation and the extent people will go to survive. However, these guys were not going to participate.

So how do you develop an inner character that honors God with outer actions?

First, understand the magnitude of consequences. If "borrowing" money from your company with the intent to pay it back (at least you tell yourself that) and you know it's wrong (because this is called embezzlement), understand that there will be consequences for your deceit if it is discovered. You may be reprimanded at best, fired at the least or arrested at the worst- depending on the severity of the issue. People go to prison all the for something that should have been easily avoided.

Second, understand the concentrated effect of your actions. Most sin always affects other people and not just the sinner. But so often a person cannot think of a whole lot more than themselves. Think about those that will be disturbed by your sin.

Third, understand that there is no victimless sin. Someone becomes a victim of your behavior. If I lie to my wife to cover up where I have been then she becomes a victim of my deceit.

And then understand that your relationship with God is on the line. What does the Bible consistently teach about our relationship with him? That God is a holy God and that he desires his people to be holy and obedient to him. Not out of fearful fear but out of loving respect.

Overcoming Obstacles of Authority.

He asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

I've told the story but it's worth telling again: When I worked for Long John Silver during my college days in Florida, we needed a water hose to do our clean up outside. The other one burst and was of no use. Well, a water hose was not purchased in a timely manner. Then one day I came to work and what do you know? A water hose was hooked up and ready to be used. In conversing with other employees though, I discovered that this water hose had been stolen from the nearby pizza joint.

I was suddenly confronted with a moral dilemma. Do I continue to use the water hose at work knowing that it was a stolen water hose? After all, I didn't steal it. But my conscience wouldn't hear of it. Finally I confronted the crew one day and told them I would not use the water hose- period. And if someone didn't do something about it then I would take the water hose back over to the pizza joint and apologize for our company. Of course, there were some murmurs but nobody objected. They knew what was right.

What happened? The next day I came to work the water hose was back over to the pizza joint and we had a new one.

Nazi Germany engaged in willful behavior that sent millions of Jews to gas chambers. The atrocities against other human beings was horrible. After the war, countless German leaders and followers were convicted and hanged for their crimes against humanity. Many of them attempted to use the authority defense- I was only following orders. Nobody got off the hook (unless they escaped or committed suicide).

Daniel was respectful to his authority. We must do the same. However, he was firm about his conviction. This allowed him the room to carry out a deal whereby they would take ten days and prove that by eating fruits and vegetables instead of McDonald's there would be a difference.

And they were proved correct.

Sometimes we just simple need to stand up for what's right and allow the Holy Spirit to take over. If you get fired so what? Your relationship with God is intact. Besides there are other jobs out there. If you don't get that promotion, big deal. Better to be promoted in the kingdom of God than to be demoted.

Overcoming Obstacles of Conscience.

Please test your servants for ten days.

There is particular dilemma that faces so many in our time that is referred to in common psychology as "moral disengagement." Moral disengagement is when you see a particular moral question set before you and decide that you want something that you should not have. What do you do? You justify your actions and participate in something you should not.

For example, a man may find himself involved with pornography. You know that pornography is wrong and yet you will find ways to disengage your conscience from the action. You may feel that your wife is ignoring your needs or that the stress of life needs a stress relief and so you deliberately choose to take on a temptation that otherwise remains just that- a temptation.

What are the obstacles to having a clear conscience?

Justifying your actions. A person may feel as though what they are doing is not wrong. For example, a worker may take pens from work that they know are not theirs to take. They may justify their actions by simply saying, "Well it's not like they pay me enough." Or "It's not like I'm stealing a car!"

Some will shift the blame to others. They will see others do that same thing and think that it's alright because others are doing it. They see themselves as part of a team that is not really doing anything that wrong.

They may trivialize their actions and move on.

They may dehumanize the target. "Well, my boss is such a jerk. He won't give me the raise I deserve so I'll give away free food instead of charging for it." "Look at how much money they make? They won't miss it a bit."

Rewarding your sacrifice. A leader- yepper, including pastors, sadly- may feel as though they deserve a little reward for all the sacrifice they are making for their family or their company or their church. And so a little porn flick isn't hurting anyone. What they don't realize is that the consequences of sin have far-reaching affects whether anybody ever knows or not. God knows and it does bring harm to the relationship.

Social dominance orientation. Huh? This is the idea that certain individuals will embrace myths and ideals in order to carry out their actions against others. For example, whites will blame Mexicans for the lack of jobs; Mexicans will blame blacks for the problems of the inner city; blacks will blame whites for the problems of poverty and racism. Throw in the Oriental immigrants and the newcomers from Europe and elsewhere and you have a hotbed of racial tension. We then use the myths and ideals in order to discriminate against others or even commit crimes against others.

So where do we go from here?

Overcoming Obstacles with Action.

The king talked to them and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

These young men were willing to back up their beliefs with action. What about you? Are you willing to back up what you truly believe to be true in your heart with the outward action of doing the right thing for the right reason?

We've probably have all heard the story of the little boy who is put into the corner as a punishment but he tells his mother that in his mind he's pretending to be playing in spite of being in the corner. This is called cognitive dissonance and too many people practice this all of the time.

Jesus taught us that where your heart is there your treasure will be also. He taught us as well that if a man looks on a woman with lust he has committed adultery with her or if a man hates his brother in his heart he has murdered him.

We might argue that this is crazy talk or we might recognize that Jesus was wanting to get right to the heart of the matter: for us to have a right relationship with God calls for us to be absolute in our obedience and following of him. After all, Jesus shows us exactly what it means to be truly human.

So how do you overcome any obstacle you face in doing the right thing whether it be self-interest, authority or conscience?

First, confess your sins to God.

Second, resolve to be changed by God.

Third, face the consequences honestly.

Fourth, walk forward in the power of the Spirit.


 



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