Tonight we’re going to be kicking off a series entitled Stand Strong. I am very much indebted to Francis Chan for the theme of this series; much of its direction comes from a teaching series he did called Courageous.
The key verse for this series come from Joshua 1:9 “Be strong and courageous. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
We have to take courage, because as believers, we live in a hostile land. That’s why the Bible tells us that we’re called and exiles in the land. Despite claims that this country is 80% Christian, living out Christian principles in South Africa is like being the only English speaker in a Chinese school. It’s uncomfortable, difficult to communicate with those around you, you stand out like a clown at a funeral, it’s just not easy.
So living as a Christian is hard. How do you take a stand for attending Church when your boss calls you into work on a Sunday? (mine does all the time!) Do you pull your kids out of the school play when everyone else in their class is doing it just because it’s a play about witches? How do you bow your head in prayer at a business lunch when everyone else is watching you?
It takes courage to Stand Strong. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about in this series.
Tonight we’re going to learn to Stand Alone – how do you Stand for what’s right when no-one else will stand with you? Next Sunday morning we’re going to be covering my favourite talk of this series: Stand Firm – how do you stand for what’s right in the face of sometimes fierce and violent opposition? Then how do you stay sane and dignified, how do you keep your head up when others are trying to break you down? We’re going to talk about Standing Tall next Sunday evening. And then on the final Sunday evening in two weeks we’re going to ask: How do I Stand Out and be different in a way that doesn’t weird others out but rather attracts them to Jesus?
Tonight, we’re going to start by telling the earliest story we have of Daniel.
Before we start, let’s pray.
“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.”
Let’s pause there for a second. Why would the LORD give victory to His people’s enemies over them? Because God’s people had given up pursuing Him and started to pursue other things. A quick warning: If you give up pursuing God, then God will go to extreme measures to get you back, because our God is a jealous God.
“Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility – young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.”
When Babylon conquered a nation, they made sure to take in all the resources they could to build up their own kingdom. Sure, that included the gold and the weapons – but it also included the best human resources of the land.
“The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.”
That’s quite a bursary: 3 years of paid education, including living expenses, followed by a guaranteed job in the service of the most powerful man alive. Sweet deal! You could almost say these guys had won something.
“Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.”
We’re going to hear more about those other three in later weeks.
Let’s just pause there for a minute and sum up what’s taken place so far. Daniel was a Jew, one of the people of God. He was born into the nation that was called God’s people; and while they had drifted far from many of the Lord’s commands the Jews were still vastly different from the other nations around them. Daniel was raised to believe that he was a member of the people of God and was to be different. They dressed differently; they acted differently; they spoke differently; they had different festivals that were pictures of the true God’s relationship with humanity in general and the Jews in particular.
But all of that changed when young Daniel was about 12 years old. At this point in Daniel’s life, his country was invaded by the Babylonians. Daniel’s bubble of spiritual and moral protection was popped, and he and many of his peer group were hauled out of that city of God’s presence and settled into a new nation: Babylon.
Babylon was vastly different from Israel. Imagine it: All of Israel’s laws and culture were built on the 10 Commandments: Have no other gods beside me, Keep the Sabbath holy, Don’t steal, Don’t commit adultery…All of a sudden, he’s in a country where these laws by and large don’t exist. You can swear, because nobody’s going to stone you here. You can eat pork (wild!) or shave (super wild) or even stop praying (what will I do with all my time?).
The king has offered him a starter course in the new nation, he would get a real advantage here – learning the language and the culture, get the necessary clothes, accommodation and food was covered.
The expectation here was that after those three years, these young men would be thoroughly Babylonianised – functioning and productive members of the nation.
But Daniel didn’t want to be Babylonianised. Most didn’t – but Daniel had a very clear idea of what it meant to be a child of God. He wanted to remain a member of the people of God. He knew right away that small changes to make himself more like those around him was going to eventually draw him and his friends far away from God. And it’s true: Being more like the world makes you less like God. Sure, it looked harmless, but he knew what he had to do. He had to take a stand. Let’s see how he does it.
“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.
Now God had caused the official to show favour and sympathy to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, ‘I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you’. Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, ‘Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.’ So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.”
And so was created…the Daniel Diet.
Daniel lived in a society where standing for the Lord meant standing alone. And we live in a society which is much the same. For Daniel, he wouldn’t have his parents to back him up, or the high priest, the king, or the soldiers of Israel. He was alone.
But Daniel trusted God and took a stand for right-living. And how did it go down from here?
“To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.”
Great and powerful men and women of God don’t come along very often. There probably won’t be even one in a generation. But those men and woman are marked by this incredible quality: Great men and women of God are willing to stand for God, even if they stand alone.
Think of Noah, who stood alone for God in a world that was exceedingly wicked. Think of Rahab, who stood alone in helping the Israelites to conquer Jericho. Think of David, who stood alone against the giant Goliath. Think of Elijah, who stood alone against the prophets of Baal.
One other thing marks these that courageously stood for God against great opposition: Those that stand for God are greatly blessed by God.
Noah’s family alone survived the flood. Rahab’s family alone survived the attack on Jericho. David was given a legacy that would never die. Elijah lived one of the most miracles-filled life of any person who ever lived and was even one of two people chosen to visit Jesus during his life on earth – what?!
And Daniel – Daniel and his friends were given great wisdom by God, and consequently extremely high positions of power. And if you keep reading through Daniel you’ll see that these four people are used by God on multiple occasions to show the kings they serve that there is only one true God.
So – you and I will sometimes be challenged to stand alone for God. We might be challenged to stand alone amongst our friends; we might be challenged to stand alone in our workplace or our neighbourhood, or our country.
You likely already have been challenged many times to stand alone – to be in a situation that forces you to decide if you will obey God or if you will follow the crowd.
And your decision will do one of two things: It will either glorify God, or it will give the enemies of God an opportunity to scorn him.
et me tell you a little of how God called me to stand alone.
When I was growing up I didn’t have many friends. I was a missionary child – that made me strange enough. But I was also living far from cousins, and my parents aren’t the social types so I didn’t have parent’s friends’ kids to have play dates with. Also, for the first decade I grew up in a school for the blind and deaf, and so I was as different as different could be.
My friends were other missionary kids who we saw once a year; I was barred from unhealthy TV shows like the Power Rangers and Care Bears; and many of our family adventures involved going to new Churches where I began to learn that being sweet and quiet would win me smiles and compliments from the old folks. I grew up in a bubble.
Before I go on, I want you to know that I’m not complaining about this upbringing one bit. I intend to raise my children the same way.
When I moved into a public school I was ridiculed all the time. I was so different from everyone else. My favourite music was classical music and old hymns. I didn’t play sports. I didn’t know how to interact with girls. I had a weird haircut. It was as if you had picked me up from one culture where I knew what was going on and felt comfortable and dumped me in a hostile new world.
Maybe that’s why when I got into high school my biggest desire was to be popular – to have lots of friends, and for once to not be the weird nerdy one that nobody liked.
It was a painful journey but I eventually figured out how to be liked. I began to listen to the same music the cool kids did. I started to buy the same clothes, read the same magazines, tell the same jokes, eat the same food. I became like them.
All of that successfully gave me what I wanted: A group of friends.
Then, just as things were ‘starting to work out’ for me, God began to call me into a relationship with Him. When God first started to call me it started like this: God became to me an oasis in the desert. I kept running to Him because I found life with Him.
But very quickly I started to notice that my lifestyle and my oasis didn’t fit well together. I couldn’t have both. I would either have to stand for God and not be like my friends – not talk like them, not laugh at the dirty jokes, not talk badly about the teachers – OR I could stand in the crowd of my friends.
How do you say to your teacher that the test answers were accidentally left on her desk when all the peeps in your class have already cheated off it and you’re the only one who didn’t? How do you tell your boss that you’re not willing to pay a bribe that will win you the job that will finally turn the company around and save a dozen jobs including your own? When everyone at the party is trying out joints for the first time, it’s not easy to say no when it comes around to you.
There are two things we must know if we’re to Stand Alone for God. Two P’s so that it’s easy to remember.
We must know God’s precepts
We must know God’s presence
Firstly, for us to stand alone for God, we need to know God’s precepts. Precepts is a fancy word for rules, but it starts with a P which helps us to remember it.
Psalm 119:11 “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
To stand for God, you need to know what God wants you to stand for.
In today’s society, one of the hottest topics in the world is the gender debate. Do you know what God says about it?
Or how about how to manage your company ethically. Do you know God’s laws regarding ethical business practice? Because it’s in there.
Or how about how to handle office politics?
We get to know what God wants by studying His Word.
How well do you know God’s word? How well do you really know it?
Jewish practice is that a child learns the first five books of the Bible by heart by the time he is 12 – so Daniel would probably by the time he was taken to Babylon have the books of the law memorised. He knew God’s precepts like the back of his hand…or better.
Many of us take our ideas of what’s right and what’s wrong from our own hearts. And do we know how dangerous that is? The Bible says that “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jer 17:9)
I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with young people where in response to one of God’s laws they say, “But that doesn’t feel right”.
Only Christians go to eternity with God – “But that’s so unfair”
God says homosexuality is wrong and harmful – “But that’s not very loving”
God is against divorce and remarriage – “No, that’s not my God”
My friends, we can’t stand for God if we don’t know what God stands for. How well do you know God’s Word? Do you study it every day? Do you read it morning and night? Are you memorising portions of it?
And maybe you say, ‘All well for you to say Pastor – that’s your job. All you do is read your Bible every day. I wish I had it that easy.’
It’s not a time matter – it’s a heart matter. My heart fights against reading, studying and memorising God’s Word as much as yours does. I have to wrestle with my heart to delve into God’s word because some part of me doesn’t want me to. It’s spiritual warfare and I’m as much in it as you are.
It’s not about having enough time, it’s about saying “I might never have enough time; I might never have enough desire – but I’m done with excuses, I will make time and a space because I want to know God’s will!”
Do you want to know what God wants? Then stop looking for excuses and start looking for opportunities: Before bed, before getting up, during a lunch break, while cooking, while running, while driving: find a time and a space.
We can’t ever stand alone until we know what God wants us to stand for. I must know God’s precepts.
But we must also know God’s presence.
When the boy David went to stand against the giant Goliath it wasn’t the power of his arms that he trusted in; nor the skill of his throw; not the strength of his armour; nor the influence of his words. What comforted David as he stood ready to fight Goliath was this this: That God was with him. What will comfort you when you stand alone is this: God is with you.
If David hadn’t been completely convinced of this, he wouldn’t have stood alone for God. But when he looked up at Goliath, his heart and soul was so filled with the knowledge of God’s presence that he shouted out: “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!”
Daniel knew that even though they had been taken out of God’s land, God hadn’t left them. God was still with them, and was still calling them to Himself.
In order to stand alone you must know God’s presence – that He is with you in every situation, watching what you do, caring about whether you will stand for Him or not. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight; everything is uncovered and exposed before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)
And when you choose to stand for Him, He’s ready to fight for you. “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)
You decide, ‘Well, all my friends are going to this party, but for God’s sake I won’t go to it even if it leaves me out of my friend’s conversations’ – God sees that.
You decide, ‘Well, all my friends are allowing their kids to watch this show, but for God’s sake I’ll tell my children no even if they cry because I care about what is put in their heads and hearts’ – God sees that.
You decide, ‘Well, all my friends are cutting corners to make a little extra money at the end of the month but for God’s sake I’m going to do things the proper way’ – God sees that.
It’s so important to know God’s presence, because knowing God’s presence is what gives us strength to endure when we’re standing alone.
We’re going to talk more about standing firm – strength to endure – in next week’s message. But today you’re going to know that God calls you and I to stand for Him, and sometimes that will mean standing alone. That’s not always easy, but God’s word encourages us that God is watching all the world to see who will stand for Him, “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”
Daniel was one of those individuals that stood for God, and God blessed him in mighty ways for it. And if you want to stand for God, start today. You can begin to stand for God by knowing His precepts, and by knowing His presence.