Sermon for September 21, 2014 “Heading for the Finish Line” (Daniel 12)

Near the finish line of his life, at the very end of the last vision he received, at the very end of the book of Daniel, come these words. “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.” Jesus authenticates Daniel’s words with his own in Matt 24:21,22: “Then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”

Sounds like it will be tough. Good luck to the people who live through all that…What time does the game start? Got food ready for lunch today? How are you doing on your “to do” list for the weekend?…Oh, it’s hard to stay on task with stuff like this. These words were written more than 2,500 years ago. OK, seriously, now, when will this time of distress be and who will be affected? It’s a reference to the end times, in which we are living. Yes, we are living in the end times. All of the signs of the end spoken of by Jesus are present: false Christs, wars and rumors of wars. Famines, earthquakes, natural disasters, hatred for the Gospel and for Christians, and even among Christians, there is widespread apathy.

Just look. Look at the news. Look on the internet. Look on TV. Chaos, upset, and a sense of spinning out of control are everywhere. War, terror, international conflicts in every corner of the globe, 100 year floods in AZ, hurricanes, killer storms, ebola. Persecution of Christians is widespread and well-known. Christians the world over been infected with a virus, the virus of apathy. So many claim the name of Christ, but refuse to actually live the faith; they talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. Love has grown cold: love for God, love for neighbor. We are in the end times, and the world is rushing, stumbling, staggering to the finish line. It’s an ugly scene, horrific, terrifying even.

We are pilgrims in an unholy land. How will we make it through? Can we hold on to faith, to Jesus, as we head for the finish line? What comfort do we have as we head for the finish line of life/of this world?

“But at that time –specifically on Judgment Day/the Last Day – your people–everyone whose name is found written in the book–will be delivered.” What book? Literal, figurative, ebook, audiobook? It’s the Book of Life. John describes this Book further when he speaks about heaven in Revelation 21:27: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” This book contains the list of all those who will share in the glory of heaven. This is one book we’ve never read nor ever seen, and there is only one copy, but it will be the only book that matters on Judgment Day.

The question is natural: “Is my name there?” Let’s answer this question with other questions. “Did Jesus die for you?” Listen to the words of John in his first epistle: “If anybody does sin (What an understatement! Who of us is exempt from sinning? Who of us couldn’t already recount sins of thought, word and deed that we’ve committed against God just today, in the last hour, the last few moments?. We are deeply in debt to him for our sins), we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Did you catch the words “our sin,” the whole world”? Yes, Jesus died for you and your sins!

Here’s another question: “Were you baptized?” That is, has the Holy Spirit had a chance to work in your heart through Word and Sacraments? St. Paul declares: “We were therefore buried with (Christ) through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). We share in the blessings of Christ’s death through baptism – forgiveness and eternal life are ours by faith. Yes, dear Christians, your names are written in the book of life, not because of anything you’ve done, but because of God’s incomparable love for you in Christ. They are written there not in ink, but in blood, the blood of our Savior. No question, no doubt about it.

On the Last Day, Daniel says, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” Jesus again validates Daniel’s words in John 5:28,29: “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear (my) voice and come out–those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” This is the resurrection from the dead. All who have died will rise from the dead, believers and unbelievers. Souls will rejoin bodies and everyone will stand before the Lord for judgment and then sent either to heaven or hell for all eternity. But those whose names are written in the book need not fear. God’s people – and that is who we are – will be delivered. Delivered to our final destination of heaven through Christ our Savior.

In 1 Thessalonians 4 he describes in great detail some of the events of the day when Jesus. It will be amazing, incredible, frightening for those not ready. But not for the people of the Book whose names are written in the Book of Life. Paul says that in the end, at the end of it all, “We will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (vv. 17b,18)

More encouragement is offered here in Daniel’s vision: “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise.” A brief glimpse into the spirit world – not vampires and zombies (which are not real) and devils and demons (which are real), but angels. Who is this Michael? He’s mentioned only five times in the Bible – three times in Daniel, once in Jude where he is identified as an archangel, and once in Revelation. He is one of the highest ranking, if not the highest ranking angel to whom the Lord has given much power and an all-important task – the protection of God’s people.

This matches other descriptions of angels found in Scripture. Their purpose is defined in Hebrews 1:14 “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Angels serve God’s people primarily by protecting them. Psalm 91:11: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Also, Psalm 34:7: “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” Does the Lord need the angels’ help to watch over his people? Certainly not. But he is pleased to give us the added assurance that the presence and protection of faithful angels brings.

By the way…there’s an angel speaking to Daniel in chapter 12. This is the end of a vision that started back in chapter 10. Listen to the description of the angel who speaks to Daniel. He is not named, but he is described as “a man dressed in linen with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.” There is only one angel described like this elsewhere in the Bible, in Revelation 1. It’s the Lord Jesus himself offering comfort and protection. It’s one thing when the owner of a company sends someone else to do the job, but when the owner himself shows up…

As we come to the end of our study of Daniel, and of our study of chapter 12, a couple more things. What will people be like as we head toward the finish line, toward the end of all things? In a word: lost. Jesus tells Daniel to “close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end.” Not to hide the message, but to preserve it. Everything we need to know about faith and life, heaven and hell, is all here. What makes life worth living and death worth dying is here, and nowhere else. But many will go elsewhere. “Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” In other words, everywhere, anywhere but here/the Word of God. We touched on this last week when we talked about so many people today saying, “I am spiritual, but not religious” that is, “I decide what’s best/what works for me spiritually.” It’s a continuing fulfilment of the tragic prediction by the prophet Amos: “Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.” (Amos 8:12)

Final thought/question: What should we do? It’s a confusing, frightening world. So uncertain. This uncertainty is highlighted by the fact that it isn’t possible to know exactly what is meant by some of what’s here in chapter 12 (and elsewhere in Daniel and Revelation, for that matter). Daniel seeks to understand, asks “What will the outcome be?” and “When will this happen?” and clarity is not provided by references to “time, times, and half a time” as well as references to “1290 days” and “1335 days.” It’s best to consider the time periods in a symbolic manner. “Time, times, and half a time” equals 3 ½, which is half of 7, the Biblical number of perfection. 1290 days and 1335 days is slightly longer than 3 ½ years. Simply put, this time of great distress will be limited, and is under God’s control.

But still, we want to understand. Daniel wants to understand. But Jesus says to Daniel (and to us), “Go your way, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked.” People will come to faith through Word and Sacrament, through the Word-filled witness of believers, and many will still reject God’s truth. As C.S. Lewis wrote: “Really, there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who learn to say , ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God will say, “Thy will be done.”

What should we do then? “Go your way.” “Go your way till the end.” Keep living joyful lives of faithful service to the Savior. Keep believing, keep growing in the faith, keep sharing the good news of Jesus. Every day, people reach the finish line of their individual lives. We need to reach as many as possible while there still is time. Whom will you reach today, tomorrow? Got someone in mind? Got a plan? Just go and do, go and tell, go on your way. God will place people in your lives who need the Gospel of Jesus. He already has.

Go your way. Go with confidence and courage. By the grace of God, you are headed for heaven, and whether you are still here on this earth when Jesus returns or already in his presence, you “who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and (you) who lead many to righteousness (who share Jesus with others), (will shine) like the stars forever and ever.” Even now you are a saint. You are triumphant in Christ. Your name is in the book of life.

Pastor Stephen Luchterhand, Deer Valley Lutheran Church (WELS), Phoenix, AZ

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Sermon for September 14, 2014 “Real Spirituality” (Daniel 9:1-19)

“I am spiritual, but not religious.” This is quite a popular mantra these days, especially for people who don’t attend worship on a regular basis. Hint: Christmas and Easter, as well as an occasional wedding or funeral, are not considered “regular”; nor is frequently uttering “omg” or some such considered worship. Rather than participate in organized religion, which is “so messed up,” more are simply saying, “I am spiritual/I am a spiritual person.”

“I see God in nature, in the trees, in the sunset, in the ocean, in a rainbow, in the laughter and cute sayings of children. I’ve come to realize that I’m not really religious, I don’t want to be confined within doctrine and teaching of a particular church, but I am deeply spiritual.” The person who self-proclaims such a self-developing spirituality will expect you religious, churchgoing folk to be blown away by the wisdom and depth of that amazing expression.

Well, where do all those amazing gifts come from? Really, only self-anointed “spiritual people” see God in nature? And no one else does? Ever read a psalm that praised God for his amazing handiwork in nature? There are dozens. The book of Job has several chapters on the subject. Ever hear Jesus say, “Let the little children come to me…they are precious, the kingdom belongs to them?” If you’ve read the Bible, you have.

“I am spiritual, but not religious” has become so popular, it even has its own acronym (SBNR) and a website dedicated to “open source spirituality.” The folks who run this website/organization refrain from using the word “truth” because it is “a tricky word that leads into discussions of absolute versus relative truth, which becomes too esoteric for our purpose.” They’d rather use the word wisdom; their stated tagline is: “All religions contain some wisdom, but no one religion contains all wisdom.”

Daniel would not be impressed by today’s so-called “spirituality.” The best way to approach this is to look at the REAL SPIRITUALITY held to and practiced by Daniel. Trust me, it looks nothing like today’s version/the latest version of Satan’s age old lie in the Garden of Eden.

The first contrast between today’s spirituality and the real spirituality practiced by Daniel is the heart of the matter: where is it centered, where is it based? Today’s spirituality is self-centered, it’s about what I think and feel and choose to believe. I think for myself, I’m not some sheep just blindly going with the crowd and following a lone voice who claims to have all the answers.

And therein lies the problem: there is one Voice that has all the answers, all truth, all wisdom. There is one Shepherd whose Voice we must hear above all others. Daniel shows us that real spirituality is God-centered. Which god? The God of the Bible, thus real spirituality is Word-centered as well. We find answers and wisdom not within ourselves, but outside of ourselves in God’s external Word.

“In the first year of (the) reign (of King Darius), I Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” Daniel’s not looking at the sunset for inspiration or checking Twitter for catchy, sloganized encouragement, he’s reading the Bible. The Old Testament isn’t quite done yet, it isn’t all written down yet, but he’s got some sacred scrolls in his possession, perhaps all of the Old Testament written up until that time, which would have been most of it.

Daniel had been in the first wave of exiles sent to Babylon 67 years ago. He’s now in his 80s, but his pulse quickens as he reads this – after 70 years, and Jerusalem will be restored? This could mean within a couple years, which is when exiles actually began returning to Jerusalem (c.a. 605-536 BC), or it could be another 20 years or so (Temple was destroyed in 586 BC and was rebuilt in 516 BC).

Either way, Daniel demonstrates real spirituality by given attention to God and his Word. He’d done it all lifelong; we’ve heard about it all through the book of Daniel, from chapter 1, when just a teenager through last week’s focus on chapter 6, while in the lions’ den. Anyone who claims to be “spiritual” but doesn’t spend much time in the Word of God through which the Spirit actually works, is living an empty, powerless, self-centered existence rather than the God-centered, Word-centered life Daniel lived. Please do enjoy nature, sunsets, the ocean, our currently lush green desert, witty children’s sayings – just don’t miss out on real spirituality, don’t miss out on the Word of God.

The second powerful contrast between today’s spirituality and real spirituality has to do with attitude. Today’s culture-heavy spirituality pushes arrogance. This can be seen in self-justification and excuses. “Hey, I couldn’t help it” or “Not my fault” or “I did my best” or “Who are you to judge me” Essentially, I can’t be held accountable for my wrong doings. It’s out there. It’s in here (in our hearts, by nature).

Daniel’s approach? Humility and repentance. His prayer on behalf of his people is amazing. He doesn’t say, “Well, it’s about time. 70 years is a long time to punish us for stuff. We’re not really that bad, I mean, take a look around at other nations and their false gods. We’re pretty good, by comparison. We’re your people. How can you treat us this way?” Listen to the humility. Listen to how many times and in how many different ways he expresses sorrow and repentance: “We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke to us in your name.” Two verses, six different expressions of repentance. And he’s only getting started, “All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you…we have not sought the favor of our LORD our God by turning away from our sins and giving attention to your truth.”

Nothing in the realm of arrogance as is often heard today, “God, we know you want us to be happy. When we’re happy, you’re happy – we think, at least we like to think so – so bless us/me(!) with your favor and gift us with whatever we ask of you. I name/claim ________.”

Instead, repentance and humility, with a focus on the Lord and an appeal to his mercy: “Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day…O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath…For your sake (not for mine!), O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear…We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake , O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your name.”

Real spirituality. It’s not about me, it’s about He/Him, the one true God of mercy and grace who kept his promise to forgive by sending his Son to live and die and live again and who keeps us promises to sustain and bless and keep us in his care.

It is the height of arrogance to approach God with anything other than repentance and humility. Upon hearing and receiving his undeserved and unconditional forgiveness and grace – as we do weekly in worship, and daily in personal devotion/study time – we want to offer nothing less than a whole life response of praise.

Final contrast for our consideration: today’s spirituality emphasizes the individual above all else, because it’s following the lie of Satan- you can be like God, you decide what’s best, your faith is a private thing so you choose what works for you. No one else has to agree with you, but no one can judge you, and everyone must affirm your right to be in charge of your own spirituality. What we’re talking about here – with apologies to Apple, which continues to cater to the individual with iEverything – is really iSpirituality.

True, no one can take away a person’s right to be self-centered, and self-justified, and just plain wrong. But faith isn’t just a private matter. Real spirituality highlights the fact that faith is shared, it’s a group thing, a public matter. Daniel showed this in the ordeal that led to him being thrown into the lions’ den. Even after the decree to not worship anyone other than the king, he still prayed and worshipped “just as he had done before” – publicly. Here he doesn’t just use “I” when confessing sins and praying on behalf of his people. In his prayer (vv. 4-19), there are nearly 50 references to we/us/our or Israel/Jerusalem. Faith in God isn’t just an iSpirituality thing, it’s shared, it’s a “we/us/our” thing.

Jesus makes this clear. Real spirituality isn’t a private matter, it’s public. “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs…Whoever acknowledges me (publicly confesses) before me, I will also acknowledge (publicly confess) him before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:27,32) How about Jesus in today’s Gospel, after Peter’s magnificent confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he said, “Blessed are you…for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven…and I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock (of your confession) I will build my church.” The word for church in the original Greek language means “gathering/assembly/collection of people.” Jesus didn’t mercifully give us grace to set up our own iSpirituality kingdom, but to faith and life together with others. After Pentecost, the apostles not only said this, they lived it: “We cannot help speaking about what we’ve seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20) They confessed publicly. They shared publicly. They did it together.

Real spirituality means a real relationship with God, not through my efforts, but through Jesus Christ. Less focus on self and my thoughts and my feelings. More focus on God and his external, powerful Word. Purge, daily, arrogance and pride. Cultivate, daily, humility and repentance. And lose the individuality. For your digital life iPod, iPad, iPhone, and iWatch are fine. But true spirituality has a “we” factor. We share, we praise, we worship, we confess…together.

Spiritual but not religious. SBNR. Don’t buy the lie. Satan’s selling the same lie he’s always told. He’s prettied it up with some fancy dress, sophistication, and lipstick. But look closely: it’s still lipstick on a pig, an oinking, stinking pig of pride, selfishness and self-worship. You and I know better and have received so much, by grace. Our God deserves our best, real spirituality, in return.

Pastor Stephen Luchterhand, Deer Valley Lutheran Church (WELS), Phoenix, AZ

Sermon for September 7, 2014 “The Lions in Daniel’s Den” (Daniel 6)

What’s in your cloud? If Daniel had a smartphone and web access, and hackers hacked their way into his device and his cloud storage, what would they have found? Nothing. Nothing salacious, suspicious, or scandalous. Not one thing.

As we catch up to Daniel in chapter six, it’s the year 538 BC. The Babylonians are history, the Medes and Persians now rule the region, and Daniel is still standing. More than 65 years after his exile from Israel to Babylon, Daniel continues to stand up and stand out. He’s now in his 80s, and has successfully maintained a significant leadership role in the new realm.

But Daniel has his detractors, kids today would call them “haters.” They “tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.”

There is nothing – nothing in his behavior, nothing in his 60 plus years of government service, nothing in any cloud (literal or digital) – that can be held against him. Daniel is a man of integrity.

What’s in your cloud? You and I are hardly celebrities, we wouldn’t make headlines like others did this past week. But what would hackers find if they got into your files, pictures, videos, and digital history? Daniel’s example of integrity is a great reminder for us, and for more than just our digital cloud. If people were to investigate your entire spiritual cloud history, what would they find?

Suppose they checked out your school records, shopping habits, how you treat your children/family members/friends, favorite TV shows/movies/music. Suppose they checked out every relationship you’ve ever had, how you act on the job, how you act toward the opposite sex, your vocabulary, the jokes you tell, the thoughts that cross your mind. What’s in your cloud?

The answer to that will be influenced by your answer to the next question for our consideration: What’s on your schedule? Those conspiring against Daniel succeed in getting the king to decree that for the next 30 days, anyone who prays to any god except the king shall be thrown into the lions’ den.

Daniel’s response? “When Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” The key words here: “just as he had done before.”

What’s on his schedule? A better question would be, Who’s on his schedule? God is. Time with God was of the highest priority. And not just because Daniel was in trouble and might get thrown into the lions’ den. It’s what he always did. It was his regular routine. “Just as he had done before.”

Call it prayer, meditation, Bible study – it’s time with God…there are several things about Daniel’s example here that we do well to imitate.
1) A specific place – At home in his upstairs room by the southwest-facing/Jerusalem-facing windows; you and I benefit from a usual specific location for our time with God – a desk, an easy chair
2) A regular time – Three times a day. We too benefit from a regular time for time with God. Commit to a schedule and stick with it.
3) Giving thanks; giving thanks? At this time? He’s the subject of a conspiracy; these guys aren’t just trying to ruin his reputation, they want to kill him; and here Daniel is living the New Testament words of the Apostle Paul which wouldn’t be written down for another 600 years: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
4) This was a consistent habit. This wasn’t a recent campaign to better himself, 40 days of purpose or 7 habits of highly effective people. This was something he just had, had done for a long time. Again, those all-important words: “Just as he had done before.”

There’s no doubt, the more time we spend with God, the more blessings we’ll enjoy, the more of his promises we’ll understand, the more we’ll trust him, and we’ll be strengthened to be people of integrity.

From the very beginning of this account, people have been choosing sides. Seems like pretty much everyone is against Daniel, except, incredibly, King Darius. The king absentmindedly signed this law, and it can’t be repealed because to do so would make him seem not infallible, not really someone to worship as a god (as the decree declared). A god doesn’t change his mind, at least a god worth his so-called divinity.

So, a good question to ask as we continue to search this Scripture, “Whose side are you on?” All life long, Daniel has stood up and stood out as a man of God. He doesn’t change now. He remains faithful and loyal to God. And God is faithful to Daniel, not because of Daniel, not as a reward to Daniel or because he has such amazing faith. God is faithful to Daniel because of who He (God) is – the merciful, faithful, unchanging God who keeps his promises.

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was purportedly asked if God was on his side. “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side,” said the President, “my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Remember what I asked what’s in your cloud, your spiritual cloud, your every thought/word/deed? God knows it all, sees it all. Our sins exclude us from God’s side, from even approaching him. Why would God even want to have us on his side, or be near us at all? Because he is not just a God of holiness and righteousness, and justice. He is also a God of mercy and compassion and forgiveness. This is shown most clearly in the sending of his Son to be our Savior. Justice demands that we be on the hook for every single sin, a price we could never pay. Mercy and grace, in the form of Jesus’ innocent shed blood, wash us clean of every sin. And God pulls us to his side through the gift of faith.
You know how the account goes on. The king tried to keep Daniel from the lions’ den, but couldn’t. So he gave the order and said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually (echoes of the question, What’s/Who’s on your schedule – God is, all the time), rescue you.”

Who slept better that night? Daniel or King Darius? The king refused any entertainment, tossed and turned, could not sleep. Daniel? Well, Daniel had a much more comfortable, carefree night. At the first light of dawn, the king rushed to see if Daniel was somehow, some way, still alive. Daniel answered, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.” He was lifted out of the den, not a single scratch was found on Daniel because, and I’m quoting, “because he had trusted in his God.”

Who’s got home “den” advantage? Sports teams make a big deal out of home field advantage. Home teams in any sport usually have an advantage when playing at their own field, court, stadium. You would think that since it was the lions’ den, that the lions had home field advantage. Anyone who got tossed in there was pretty much DOA.

But not Daniel. He turned the home den advantage on its ear, and made himself right at home there thanks to the angel of the Lord. I picture the angel arriving, closing the mouths of the lions who were gathered all around Daniel, and then Daniel pulling out his pocket Old Testament and reading between the “lions” for a while. God was with him, and since God was there, it wasn’t so much a lions’ den as it was Daniel’s den.

Even in a pagan culture, a world hostile toward God and his people, you and I can always have home den/home field advantage even when not at home or in comfortable surroundings. Here’s a fact, an unchanging, irrefutable fact: God is with his people. Always. God is with you always. He is with you wherever you are, wherever you go, whatever circumstances you find yourself in. And because God is with you, you have home den/home field advantage. Whether you’re attending a new school, walking into a job interview, navigating some relationship difficulties, or just holding on through some family struggles – you’re not being thrown to the lions, to your challenges. Turn that around. Those challenges have to go up against you…and God. God is with you, always. You always – no matter, what, when, where – you always have home den/home field advantage.

Integrity, time with God, God on your side/God with you, home “den” advantage: it’s all yours, by grace, just as it was for Daniel. Be faithful in your walk of life – you never know the impact you might have on others.

You’ve heard of the Magi/Wise Men from the East who came to visit the child Jesus. Where did they come from, and how did they hear of the star and of the child? I think it was Daniel’s influence. Nearly seven decades near the top of government leadership across two empires, in charge of all the wise men, and so dedicated to sharing his faith…Daniel is a pretty good possibility. Surely he shared with the wise men of his day the prophecy in Numbers 24:17 – “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.”

You never know the impact you might have. Trust this: the same God who delivered Daniel will deliver you from or through the painful lions’ den experiences of life in his own time and in his own way, as he sees best. And through your faith-filled, God-honoring words and actions, he will draw others to the Savior for his glory.

Pastor Stephen Luchterhand, Dee Valley Lutheran Church (WELS), Phoenix, AZ

Sermon for August 31, 2014 “Only God Is God” (Daniel 4)

King Nebuchadnezzar had a scary dream. In his own words: it “made me afraid (and)…terrified me.” None of the wise men of Babylon could interpret the dream. Finally, the king turns to Daniel for help. Funny that Nebuchadnezzar didn’t turn to Daniel right away. Daniel had already interpreted one of the king’s dreams in chapter 2. He’d actually done more than interpret the dream. See, Nebuchadnezzar had challenged his wise men to tell him what the dream was and then interpret it. He didn’t tell them what it was. They had to figure out what the dream was and then explain it. Pretty unreasonable request – how could they know someone else’s dream – but not the kind of thing you told this guy. No one could do this impossible thing, so Nebuchadnezzar ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon.

Daniel got wind of this, offered to help the king, and God enabled him to know what the dream had been and to interpret it. The dream emphasized the king’s current power and status but declared that his empire would eventually be struck down. Still, Nebuchadnezzar praised Daniel and his God, and rewarded Daniel by putting him in charge of the entire province which included the capital city of Babylon and put him in charge of all the wise men. This took place when? In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, when Daniel was still in his initial training, still only a teenager.

So now decades later Nebuchadnezzar is at home enjoying peace and prosperity. This disturbing dream comes to him, no one can figure it out, even though he tells the wise men what it is this time. Finally the king asks Daniel for help. He tells Daniel the dream: (v. 10ff) “I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed. In the visions I saw while lying in my bed, I looked, and there before me was a messenger, a holy one coming down from heaven. He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him.”

Daniel can help, but he is perplexed, even terrified by the dream’s meaning. It’s bad news for the king. Daniel says, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries.” That big beautiful abundant tree… “You, O king, are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.” The dream starts out great, but then an order comes from heaven to cut the tree down to the stump. “This is the interpretation, O King, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules.” You, O king, will be struck down. You are that stump.

Daniel’s done his job. He can leave now. But he cares for the king, he has a heart for this pagan, true-God-hating king whom he has served now for decades. So Daniel offers some advice: “O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” How many people do you think ever said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Renounce your sins.” This may be the very first time. Notice Daniel doesn’t say, “You can keep on doing what you’re doing and behave the way you’re behaving. You’re the most powerful man on earth, pretty much a god, so do whatever.” No. He says, “You need to get rid of the pride and arrogance. You need to try some humility. You may think pretty highly of yourself, but you are not God. You need to change. You need to repent. You need to be right with the One who is actually God Most High.”

How did Nebuchadnezzar respond to this? Well, he didn’t. We’ve arrived at the part of chapter 4 we read earlier. Twelve months later, walking on the roof of his palace, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” So how’s he doing with the humility thing? Not well. Twelve months after that terrifying dream and even more horrifying interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar hasn’t changed a bit. “Look at my city, my talent, my empire, my power, my glory, my majesty. Let’s summarize his worldview: 1) Everything is mine, 2) I did it all, 3) It’s all about me, 4) I am the center of the universe, everything revolves around me 5) it’s all me, me, me. His bottom line worldview: I am God.

His prideful, arrogant words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven: “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.”

It happened immediately: “He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.” God caused him to go insane. Insania zoanthropica is a mental illness that still happens today sometimes. It’s where a persons is convinced he or she is an animal. For a time – seven months, seven years, we don’t know, just that “seven times” would go by – Nebuchadnezzar lost his sanity. He believed he was an animal. Who’s in control now? Who really is God?

Does it seem hard to relate to this? No one here has the power and impact of a Nebuchadnezzar. No one here has an empire, each of us is just trying to keep up with the bills and pay the mortgage and maybe, just maybe, make some headway in our day-to-day lives. And yet, Satan’s lie calls out to us. It has ever since the Garden of Eden, “You can be like God. Never mind that, you can pretty much be God. You can be in control, in charge. No one else, not even God, can tell you what to do.” That appeals to our sinful pride, our stubbornness, our self-reliance, our arrogance. Am I God? No, but I’m pretty smart and pretty creative and I can probably be like God.

Author Anne Lamott once wrote: “The biggest difference between you and God is that God doesn’t think he’s you.” The same thing Daniel tried to get Nebuchadnezzar to realize is the same thing we need to understand: You are not God. I am not God. You/I are not in control. You/I are not the center of the universe. God is. And we’re not. ONLY GOD IS GOD.

We’re so used to our sins, and specifically our pride and stubbornness that we don’t even realize how sin-filled we are, how far from God we can be each day because of our sins. We carry them with us wherever we go. And even when we dump them off in repentance, we quickly load up again.

Edith, a mother of eight, was coming home from the neighbor’s house one Saturday afternoon. Things seemed too quiet as she walked across her front yard. Curious, she looked through the screen door and saw five of her youngest children huddled together concentrating on something. As she crept closer to them, trying to discover the focus of their attention, she could not believe her eyes. Smack dab in the middle of the circle were five baby skunks. Edith screamed at the top of her voice, “Quick, children, run.” Each kid grabbed a skunk and ran. That’s the human condition, we grab a skunk and run. We take them with us. Our sins: pride, greed, superiority, contempt, impatience, the tendency to quickly pass judgment on someone else, vanity, selfishness…it’s an endless list.

You and I may not be Nebuchadnezzar, but there’s some of old Nebby inside of us. Pride is a very big problem for a lot of us. But pride is the poison in the root that kills the whole tree. Proverbs 16:18 reminds us “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

What’s needed is humility that leads to true repentance. I am not God. I am sinful. I am fallen. How do we humble ourselves before our God? Well, we start with an honest self-evaluation. Have a hymnal handy? Turn to p. 156. There you get a pretty good tool for self-assessment. Ask yourself, “How well [have I] carried out my responsibilities as…
• A husband or wife or single person, as a parent or child, an employer or employee, a teacher or student?
• Have I loved God with all my heart, gladly heard his Word, and patiently endured affliction?
• Have I been disobedient, proud, or unforgiving?
• Have I been selfish, lazy, envious, or quarrelsome?
• Have I lied or deceived, taken something not mine, or given anyone a bad name?
• Have I abused my body or permitted indecent thoughts to linger in my mind?
• Have I failed to do what is right and good?

This self-assessment is one that no honest person can walk away from thinking, “How wonderful am I!” It will bring about a change of mind—and that’s what repentance really is: a change of mind—about who we are, how good we are, and well we’re doing before God. I am not God. I am sinful. I am fallen. Lord, I need your mercy and forgiveness.

We can’t meet God’s standard of holiness, and he doesn’t lower it. But he did lower himself, he sent his Son to take our place – perfect , sinless life; bloody sacrificial death to pay the price for pride and all of our sins; and the assurance of life with him now and forever through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Nebuchadnezzar finally came to his senses, especially spiritually. “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever…Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (vv. 34,37) I am not God. Only God is God. The Most High, the King of heaven, he is God.

Was Nebuchadnezzar a believer? Did he end up in heaven? We don’t know for sure. While he acknowledges Daniel’s God as sovereign, as #1/king of the hill/Top of the heap, he doesn’t speak of God’s mercy and forgiveness which is the heart of saving faith. Let’s be sure to learn the lesson meant for us. Only God is God. You/I are not. Thank God for that, and Lord, remove from us all pride and arrogance and fill us with humility and love.

Pastor Stephen Luchterhand, Deer Valley Lutheran Church (WELS), Phoenix, AZ

Sermon for August 24, 2014 “Fourth Man in the Furnace” (Daniel 3)

In Daniel 3, “faith under fire” isn’t just a catchy theme or a figure of speech. The three men at the heart of the story – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – find themselves and their faith literally in fire, in a blazing fiery furnace. No mere turned-up-to-the-max sauna here. The furnace is so hot that the soldiers who throw the three into it are killed by the intense heat. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s go back to the beginning.

More than 500 years before Christ, King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians conquered Israel and carried off into exile tens of thousands of Israel’s best and brightest, among them Daniel and the three men at the center of our story. These four young Jews were quite gifted and blessed by God, and rose to prominent positions of government leadership in Babylon.

To say that Nebuchadnezzar was a proud man would be an understatement. His little building project in chapter 3 leaves no doubt. Nebuchadnezzar would have loved today’s selfie craze. There were no cameras 2500 years ago so he made a literal selfie. A ninety foot tall statue that probably looked like him, covered with gold, quite imposing. 90 feet tall! (The tower right next to our church is 55 feet high) Just how important this was to him, how narcissistic, selfie-crazed, Kardashian-like he was about this is made clear by the fact that seven times in the first twelve verses the text speaks of the image of gold Nebuchadnezzar had set up. “He made it…he set it up…(and these words several times) the image Nebuchadnezzar had set up.”

He then summoned all the leaders throughout his empire to the dedication and commanded them not only to acknowledge it, to ooh and aah, and know that he was a great ruler, but to bow down and worship…“This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”

Very simple, very clear. Worship the statue or die. Fail to fall before the statue would result not in pink slips or unemployment lines, but in being burned to a crisp, literally.

As soon as the music began, people hit the dirt, racing to show the king how devoted they were. Everyone, as far as the eye could see, fell down and worshipped. Everyone, except for three men – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – who no doubt stood out like three sore thumbs.

Of course, there were people who made sure Nebuchadnezzar knew about these three, people who hated them for their meteoric rise in government, for their Jewishness, you name it – they had every reason to tattle on the three. And they knew how the king would respond. It was quite predictable. “Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good.’” He is giving them another shot. “‘But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?’”

This last is a rhetorical question. When a speaker asks a rhetorical question, he is not looking for information…just making a point. When I grew up, a parent’s favorite rhetorical question was, “Do you want a spanking?” No kid would ever say, “Well, I was thinking about going out to play. But you know, now that you mention it, yeah, I think that would benefit my character. Let’s go ahead with your idea.” So Nebuchadnezzar asked, “What god will deliver you?” He is not looking for information here. He is just reminding them they have no choice.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego do not respond as might be expected. No fear, no trembling, no cowering. They refuse to bow down. Listen to them: ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.’” These are unbelievable words. “‘If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand…’” In a very real way, they fight fire with fire, they fight the fire of persecution with the fire of faith. “The God we serve is able. He is not a myth or fairy tale. He is not like this statue you yourself have just
built out in the desert. He is real. He is the Creator of the universe, the Ruler of all things. He is able to save us from the furnace. He is able to deliver us from your hand. The God we serve is able.”

Are you ready to stand up and stand out? We serve the same God. The God we serve is able. Perhaps the three remembered the words of Isaiah recorded 150 years earlier. We do well to remember them: “But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’” (Isaiah 43:1-3).

Our God is able. Paul says exactly this in the New Testament: “God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20) Martin Luther and the other 16th century reformers stood up before some of the most powerful people in the world of their time. Their standing up took courage and strength, and was tempered with respect and principle. They relied solely upon the Word of God, faced the threat of death and fought the fire of persecution with the fire of faith.

Even more amazing is the statement of faith uttered next by the three. They’d refused to bow down even though it would likely cost them their lives. They’d said, Our God is able. He is able to do anything. And then, “But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Essentially, we trust God no matter what. He may not answer our prayers in the exact way we’d like him to, but he will do what is best. God is able, but what about when he does not do what he is able to do? Think of Job who went through intense suffering without relief or explanation and said, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.” (Job 13:15) Think of Esther who decided she would confront a king bent on genocide even though it could mean her death and said, “I will go to the king even though it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)

What faith! “But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we trust our God no matter what. We will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” And we trust him and take him at his Word because he is God over all, God over you, O king.

Wow. Nebuchadnezzar is so moved by their devotion that he apologizes to them, sets them free and proclaims religious liberty throughout the land. No. “Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed.” Literally it says, “And his face toward them changed.” You know when somebody’s face is just exploding with anger. “He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual.” It was so hot that the fire killed the guards who threw them into the furnace.

Well, they gave it their best shot. We certainly commend them for their faith, their fortitude, in the face of certain death. Let’s go to chapter 4… But wait. “King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, O king.’ He said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.’”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are not only alive, they have company. Who’s the fourth man in the furnace? Football teams speak of the “12th man,” a reference to loud and supportive fans cheering on the team during home games. Basketball teams call their home crowd the 6th man this referring to their fans. While not actually on playing surface, fans can have an influence on what happens.

So who’s the fourth man here? A fan, a cheerleader, someone to offer applause and encouragement? So much more. At the very least, it’s an angel. It’s even possible that it’s Jesus, pre-incarnate, before taking on human flesh. He certainly knows how to deal with the fire of death, he knows how to defeat death. He came to be with us, to be one of us, taking on our humanity. He lived the perfect life we could not, died the innocent death we should have but could not, and cheated death, rising from the grave to live on forever – thus enabling us to live forever with him.

The Holy Spirit brought this message to us, brought us to repentance and faith, and made us part of the family of God. As it was for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego so it was for Martin Luther and so it is for us – we are saved entirely by God’s grace alone through faith alone through the message of Scripture alone. And this God not only promises to encourage us and cheer us on from the sidelines, he truly is with us and at work in our lives.

Each day we live with this knowledge, that we have a God who is able and who is with us. He is able to repair marriages and restore relationships. He is able to fix finances and heal broken bodies. He is able to bring prodigal sons and daughters back home. He is able to bring joy and to bring light where there is only darkness. And even when he doesn’t do exactly what we might like/what we ask, he does what is best. He meets us in the furnace of life – sometimes he delivers us, sometimes he sees us through. But he’s always with us – the 4th man in the furnace, Good Shepherd who watches over us, carries us as on eagles’ wings, holds us in the palm of his hand/close to his heart.

Nebuchadnezzar was stunned by what he saw. He called the three out of the fire, found that not a single hair was singed nor did they even smell of smoke and said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”

We are not promised such miraculous deliverance from the heat of life’s challenges. But we have the assurance of God’s power and presence. And just who is this God? Can he deliver? Is he really a Mighty Fortress? Many today think of God not as a fortress, but as a mere flimsy tent or cardboard box, or even seek to put God in a box. God is easily blown away. He is, I’ve often heard it said, nice. He can be reckoned with. He can be dealt. He’s, well, nice. We are content with a comfortable, convenient God.

That’s a manmade god (small g). The God of the Bible is the one true God (capital G). He is almighty, all powerful, Elohim, Yahweh, Savior. He is untamable, unboxable, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. He is the God for whom and through whom everything exists in whom all things hold together. He is over all and through all and in all. And while we do struggle with weakness and difficulties and questions about why God allows something to happen here and doesn’t do what we think he should do there, he is the One True God. He is your God. More than just a 12th man, a 6th man, or the 4th man in the furnace.

So stand up and stand out. By faith, lay hold of the God who delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. There is nothing in our modern world, seen or unseen, that is a match for the power of God. There is nothing in our world, seen or unseen, that diminishes the greatness of Christ. There is nothing in our world, seen or unseen, that can cause him to abandon you. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35,37-39)

Pastor Stephen Luchterhand, Deer Valley Lutheran Church (WELS), Phoenix, AZ

When Your Address Simply Reads…Babylon

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Been to Babylon? The ancient city of Babylon, located in the heart of modern day Iraq, has a well-known and fascinating history. It once housed the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World in ancient times. All that’s left today are ruins and dust…and echoes of modern day warfare.

For the Israelites of the Old Testament, Babylon meant exile, fear, and dread. When Nebuchadnezzar first laid siege to Jerusalem in 605 BC, he began exiling young Jews to Babylon. Among these was Daniel. Likely only a teen at the time, Daniel would never return home, though he lived well into his 80s.

Life as Daniel knew it changed forever. But he refused to allow the exile in Babylon to change him. He knew who he was. More importantly, he knew to Whom he belonged. Read the book of Daniel. It’s only 12 chapters. But it’s loaded with encouragement for those who live in Babylon.

Babylon? You’ve likely never been to Iraq. I haven’t. But we’ve been to Babylon. There are times when the address on the mailbox of life simply reads…Babylon. We’ve endured the exile of despair, doubt, death, perhaps even depression. Life can fall apart at a moment’s notice. Just one thing – a relationship collapse, a financial challenge, a heath difficulty – can cause everything to change so quickly. Suddenly, we’re in a strange and dangerous place – afraid, uncertain, lost. The dust and ruin of Babylon has swallowed up many a soul.

But it doesn’t need to. Not if we remember who we are in Christ, and to Whom we belong. Scriptures that proclaim, “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength,” and “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go” are more than mere platitudes. They’re power-packed promises from the Lord who created and redeemed you.

It doesn’t matter where we are, even if it seems like an extended Babylonian exile. What matters is who we are, by grace, and Who is with us.

In a sense, our entire life on this earth is a journey through exile, through Babylon. We’re headed for home, away from exile, sustained by the love and mercy of Christ.

 

Sermon for August 17, 2014 “The Daniel Plan” (Daniel 1)

You may have heard of a book entitled, “The Daniel Plan,” subtitled “God’s Prescription for Good Health.” Today’s message is not about that. You will never hear a message about that from this pulpit. Don’t get me wrong: Good health is important, it’s a stewardship issue as we care for the body God’s given us, but nowhere does the Bible prescribe for all time a specific diet or recommend Eastern meditation practices as essential to good health (as The Daniel Plan book does).

The Bible’s primary focus is not financial, relational, or nutritional; it’s spiritual. Daniel 1 does give an account of Daniel’s diet at the time, but it is not a prescription. It is a powerful description of Daniel’s faith in action. The whole message of Daniel is about staying spiritually healthy in the presence of our Savior, even when faith is under fire. As important as it is to take in adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, there’s something far more important for us to take in. And this is THE DANIEL PLAN.

Daniel was a mere teenager when his life fell apart, when the everything he knew about life changed forever in an epic collapse. 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, having just defeated Egypt in an epic battle for supremacy in the region, laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. He would toy with the Jews for 20 years before completely destroying the city.

Already in 605, he deported some Jews to Babylon, especially some of their best and brightest young people to be trained for government service. Among these first exiles were young Daniel and his three friends: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Consider the challenges these young men had to face, as life as they knew it collapsed all around them:
* They were sent to a foreign land, far from home, against their will; and they were likely only teenagers
• They were to immerse themselves in the study of a heathen culture, and learn the language and literature of the Babylonians
• They were given heathen names, all of which had the names of Babylonian gods embedded in them: Daniel “God is my Judge” became “Belteshazzar;” Hananiah “The LORD is gracious” became Shadrach; Mishael “Who is what God is?” became Meshach; Azariah “The LORD helps me” became Abednego.
• Finally, for the three years of their training, they were to eat food and wine from the king’s table, in other words, heathen food.

How did these young men react to these changes and challenges? Well, they couldn’t do much about the exile. It wasn’t wrong to learn the language and literature of another culture, just make sure they didn’t believe the ungodly aspects of it; even Moses had been educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. Name change? They still knew their true identity, who they truly were in the one true God.

But the food thing was a problem. “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.” Dietary restrictions were part of the covenant God had made with the Israelites at the time of Moses. This challenge was an attack on their faith for two reasons: 1) Jews could only eat clean animals, much of the Babylonian diet violated this; 2) It’s likely that a portion of the meat and wine would be dedicated to Babylonian idols. Consuming it would give them impression that Daniel was participating in worship of false gods. This he refused to do.

“Daniel asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way…‘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…’ So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.”

What’s he doing? What is “the Daniel plan” for keeping one’s faith under fire?
1) Daniel trusts that God is in control, whether it looked like it or not All the evidence seemed to indicate that the God of Israel was weak and ineffective, certainly losing bigtime at the moment to the Babylonian gods. But Daniel knew the words of King David – “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1) ‘The LORD is my Shepherd – I shall not be in want.” (Psalm 23:1) Psalm 118:6,7a,8 – The LORD is with me, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The LORD is with me; he is my helper…It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.”
2) Thus Daniel takes the Lord at his word. Joshua 1:9 – “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
3) So, Daniel refuses to compromise. Rather than succumb to the convenience of compromise, he took a stand, he did what was right in the eyes of God. Again the words of David, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)

When was the last time your faith was under fire? When’s the last time life fell apart? Everything just collapsed. When’s the last time the address on the mailbox of your life simply said, Babylon? Perhaps that describes you right now. If not now, the only question is when will it happen again. Examples….
• When a relationship gets conflicted and it appears to be beyond restoration
• When a marriage starts to skid sideways, and love isn’t what comes to mind when you think of your spouse
• When you’re worried about your kids, whether they’re 4, 14, or 44
• When work issues disappoint and overwhelm
• When the culture we live in hammers away at our core Christian values to get us to see them as optional, even extreme, and begin to let down our guard and drift away
• When a loved one is terminally ill, or you find yourself fighting chronic illness
• When the money runs out but the bills keep coming
• When your fears seem bigger than your faith

We’re not talking stubbed toes and hangnails here. A flat tire, a favorite team in last place, a traffic jam, or blueberry jam on a white dress shirt. We talking real challenges to faith as Satan, the world, and an ungodly culture seek to undermine and chip away the faith that clings to Christ and his Word. What do you do? What can you do when faith is under fire? Follow Daniel’s lead:
1) Trust that God is in control, whether it looks like it or not. You know the Scriptures, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
2) Take the Lord at his Word, as Daniel did. Jesus said, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat? Or What shall we drink? Or what shall we wear?’ But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31,33) We have our Lord’s solemn promise – “Christian, put me first in your life, and I guarantee that you will lack nothing that you need for body and soul.”
3) Refuse to compromise. Romans 12:2 comes to mind – “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold. Resist by renewing your minds in the Word of God. Paul’s advice to Timothy is also worth noting: flee temptation, run the other way, don’t look back and don’t leave a forwarding address.
4) Know that there is forgiveness for failure. We know failure. We know sin and doubt and rebellion. Each of us is a poster child for spectacular examples of failure and faithlessness. Yet “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 5:8, 8:1) A crucified and risen Savior provides motive and strength to continue on. Paul wrote, “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” (Php 4:13)

God blessed the commitment of Daniel and his three friends: “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.” God’s power was at work here, and he continued to bless these young Hebrews. Daniel was given the special ability to understand visions and dreams, which would come in handy throughout his life. Also, “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 the whole kingdom.” All four rose to prominent positions in government – Daniel actually made it to #2 in the whole Babylonian empire. And there’s this at the very end of chapter 1 – “Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.” Cyrus was the Persian king who conquered Babylon 66 years after Daniel was exiled. By the grace of God, Daniel outlasted the Babylonian empire, served well into his 80s.

We talk about the Daniel plan as if it was all Daniel’s thinking, doing, and prioritizing. Which to a large and sanctified degree, it was. But there’s another way to look at the Daniel plan – God had a plan for Daniel. To serve God and God’s people in exile across the span of two powerful empires – Babylon & Persia. God has a plan for me and for you. Mine we could call “the Stephen plan.” Yours, well, put your name in the blank. God has a plan for you and through you. Don’t miss it. Be a part of it. Live it fully by fueling faith through God’s powerful Word.

What do we do with Daniel’s example and God’s encouragement? Put it to use. Don’t be passive. Be active. Pursue spiritual integrity. Press on, hold on, cling tightly, and be bold. Here’s an example. This creed/confession is known as “The Fellowship of the Unashamed.” The author is unknown, but is believed to be a young African pastor who was martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ….

“I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit’s power. The die has been cast. I
have stepped over the line. The decision has been made — I’m a disciple of his.

I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes
sense, my future is secure.

I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions,
worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.”

“I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have
to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean in his
presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and I labor with power.”

“My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way rough, my companions
few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear.

I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not
flinch in the face of sacrifices, hesitate in the presence of the enemy, pander at the pool of popularity,
or meander in the maze of mediocrity.”

“I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up for
the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till he comes, give till I drop, preach till all know,
and work till he stops me.

And, when he comes for his own, he will have no problem recognizing me … my banner will be clear.”

Lord, give us such a faith as this, and then whate’er may come; we’ taste e’en now the hallowed bliss of our eternal home. Amen

Pastor Stephen Luchterhand, Deer Valley Ev. Lutheran Church, Phoenix, AZ (WELS)