Walking Through the Fires of Life

He exclaimed, “Look! I see four men, not tied, walking around in the fire unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Daniel 3:25 HCSB

I receive a daily email devotion written by the great preacher and writer Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892). He is one of England’s best-known preachers. In 1854, just four years after his conversion, Spurgeon, then only 20, became the pastor of London’s famous New Park Street Church. The congregation quickly outgrew their building and moved twice to accommodate audiences numbering more than 10,000 – all in the days before electronic amplification. Spurgeon is also known for his volumes of written work. In the devotion I received this week Spurgeon used a story from Daniel to illustrate his point. The following paragraph is from Dr. Charles Spurgeon.

“Be not content with an interview now and then, but seek always to retain his company, for only in his presence hast thou either comfort or safety. Jesus should not be unto us a friend who calls upon us now and then, but one with whom we walk evermore. Thou hast a difficult road before thee; see, O traveller to heaven, that thou go not without thy guide. Thou hast to pass through the fiery furnace; enter it not, unless, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, thou hast the Son of God to be thy companion. In every condition thou wilt need Jesus. Keep close to thy Best friend, and he will refresh and cheer thee.”

Challenge: Some Biblical scholars say that the fourth person in the fire was an angel while others say it was the preincarnation appearance of Jesus. Either way, when we walk through the fires and trials of life we need God to be with us. Read Psalm 46. It reminds us that God is always with us, even in times of trouble.

How Would You Answer?

“But if you don’t worship it, you will immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire – and who is the god who can rescue you from my power?” Daniel 3:15b HCSB

What would you do or say if you were asked the same question as asked of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego by King Nebuchadnezzar? Would you fall down and worship the idols and ask God for forgiveness? Would you bow down but only pretend to worship the idols? Would you perhaps rationalize that you must obey the king or that you were in a foreign land and God would understand your requirement to worship other gods? Would you rationalize that your ancestors actually set up idols in God’s temple and that just bowing down to the idol would not cause harm? Would you conclude that worshiping idols was not offensive? Or would you believe that if you were killed you would not be able to have an influence in the culture and help the others who were exiled?

We all make excuses and rationalize why we sin and disobey God, but the bottom line is that God has provided us with guidelines on how to live and bring honor to Him and for us to have an abundant life. When we choose to disobey God and go against His laws, we are sinning and bringing dishonor to God. Our sins separate us from a Holy God. Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego could have rationalized why they should bow down and worship the idols, but they decided they would not violate God’s command in Exodus 20:3, “Do not worship any other gods besides me.”

Challenge: What excuses or rationales do you use when faced with a hard decision to follow God’s ways instead of the world’s ways? Pray for strength and wisdom as you take a stand for God and do what is right. Trust God to take care of you.

Take A Stand

“There are some Jews you have appointed to manage the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men have ignored you, the king; they do not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” Daniel 3:12 HCSB

ThinkProgress reports : Last week, the militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) forced 10,000 Christians (http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/christian-leaders-express-shock-world-silence-after-isis-expels-iraqi-christians) living in the Iraqi city of Mosul to pack up their belongings and flee. ISIS issued a statement last Thursday ordering (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/24/iraqi-christians-mosul-isis-convert-islam-or-be-executed) the city’s Christians to convert, pay a hefty religious tax, or face execution on Saturday.

Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego faced execution if they did not follow the king’s orders and bow down to his gods and worship the golden statue. It is unclear whether the other Jews under Babylonian captivity were bowing down and worshiping pagan gods and the statue king Nebuchadnezzar had erected, but we do know that these three men were singled out and targeted because of their beliefs and actions. They had decided that they would take a stand and only worship the one true God regardless of the consequences.

Challenge: Are you ready to take a stand for God no matter what? When you stand for God and go against the culture of today, you will be criticized. Taking a stand for God may even cause you to face pain and death. Pray that God will give you the strength you need when you face persecution for your beliefs.

The Big Statue

King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue, 90 feet high and nine feet wide. He set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Daniel 3:1 HCSB

I have had the privilege of visiting the Lincoln Memorial statue in Washington DC. It is a very impressive statue of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, who served during the Civil War. The statue is 19 feet high and 19 feet wide and is a favorite photo spot for tourists in Washington DC.

Daniel had just interpreted a dream for King Nebuchadnezzar who in turn proclaimed that Daniel ‘s God was the God of all gods, and Lord over kings. The king even bowed to the ground and worshiped Daniel, but how quickly King Nebuchadnezzar forgot about Daniel’s God! He had a huge golden statue made and proclaimed that all people were to bow down and worship the statue. It is unclear if the statue was a representation of King Nebuchadnezzar or one of his many gods. The statue was almost five times as high as the Lincoln Memorial statue and probably could have been seen from 16 miles away. It is obvious that King Nebuchadnezzar wanted the people to worship him and to see how great he was. He was not sincerely interested in worshiping the one true God of Daniel.

Challenge: Do you seek the praise and attention of other people? When you attend church, is your focus on worshiping God or do you have other motives? Praise God for who He is and ask Him to help you keep the focus of your worship solely upon Him.

No One Was Found Equal

The king interviewed them, and among all of them, no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they began to serve in the king’s court. Daniel 1:19 HCSB

Many high schools have elections where students receive certain superlative awards such as best looking, most likely to succeed, best smile, best personality, best dresser, hardest worker, most talkative, and best athlete. My son, Jonathan, received the Best Sense of Humor and Most School Spirit superlative from his classmates. He was also elected Mr. MTCS, which was a high honor.

Daniel and his friends would certainly have received some superlatives if they had been giving those awards. After interviewing all of the young men, the king found no one equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They were superlative in many ways because God had given them special wisdom and abilities. God blessed them because of their faithfulness to following His laws and statutes.

Challenge: You are wonderfully and fearfully made by God (Psalm 139:14). You may not have received a superlative, but in God’s eyes you are very, very special. He loves you and wants only the best for you. His laws and statutes are designed to give you an abundant life. Follow His ways and you will never be disappointed.

One Order of Wisdom, Please!

God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel also understood visions and dreams of every kind. Daniel 1:17 HCSB

I constantly pray for God’s wisdom and direction in everything I do, at work and at home. God is all knowing and knows what is best in every situation. Some people say that God is not interested in the small issues that we face each day, but I beg to differ. God is our Heavenly Father. As an earthly father I wanted only the best for my four children. I tried to guide them and give them direction so they would make wise decisions and choices. It is fulfilling when my children, who are now grown and out of the house, call me for advice or direction. Our Heavenly father is interested in every little detail of our lives and wants only the best for us.

God gave His children, Daniel and his three friends,s knowledge and understanding over the other young men. He also gave Daniel the special ability to understand visions and interpret dreams. James 1:5 says, “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.” God desires for His children to seek Him and desire His wisdom and direction.

Challenge: Seek God and His wisdom in every situation. What decision are you needing to make this week? Ask God to give you wisdom in making the right decision. Thank God for giving you wisdom and direction in life.

THe Daniel Diet

“Please test your servants for 10 days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then examine our appearances and the appearance of the young men who are eating the king’s food, and deal with your servants based on what you see.” He agreed with them about this and tested them for 10 days. At the end of 10 days they looked better and healthier than all the young men who were eating the king’s food. Daniel 1:12-15 HCSB

ABC News reports: The Daniel Diet, inspired by the Biblical prophet Daniel, has become a popular diet among some U.S. Protestant congregations to help encourage healthy eating. The Saddleback Church, which has a congregation of at least 20,000, has launched a website and book, co-written by head pastor Rick Warren, to promote a long term version of the diet renamed “The Daniel Plan.” Although the Saddleback church version of the Daniel Plan has specific diet directions, most versions of the Daniel diet are slightly improvised since the Bible does not give exact or detailed instructions. Versions of the fast include eating only raw vegetables or fruits for 10-21 days with water.

Daniel challenged the chief official to allow he and his friends to eat only raw vegetables and fruit with water for 10 days and then determine if they were in better health than the others. After 10 days of the “Daniel Diet,” they looked better and healthier than the other young men who were to be trained to serve the king. The “Daniel Diet” transcends 2000 years. It is a Biblical way to lose weight, eat healthier, and live better. The Daniel Plan ministers to the mind, body, and spirit.

Challenge: God expects us to live healthily and eat to live rather than live to eat. What changes do you need to make in your food selections and exercise to live a healthier lifestyle? You can get more information on the “Daniel Plan” diet at www.danielsplan.com (http://www.danielsplan.com/)

Dont Defile Yourself

Daniel determined that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine he drank. So he asked permission from the chief official not to defile himself. Daniel 1:8 HCSB

All of God’s laws and restrictions are designed to benefit us rather than to keep us from having fun and enjoying life. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” God’s guidelines are always best. The Jewish dietary laws were designed to set God’s people apart from the pagan world. These laws were simple: animals that had cleft hooves and chewed the cud were suitable for food. Only birds that did not eat carrion (decaying flesh) or carry communicable diseases were approved for eating. Also, only fish that had fins and scales could be eaten. Scavenger birds and fish were not considered clean. Meat that had been offered as a sacrifice to a pagan idol was considered unclean. There are differing opinions on God’s purpose for the laws and regulations. Some believe that God’s purpose was to provide healthy foods, while others believe that it was to keep the Jewish people from eating animals used in pagan worship and rituals. For more information
on the Jewish dietary laws, read Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-14 and 19:26.

Daniel did not want to defile himself by disobeying God and eating items that He had established as being unclean. Daniel was in exile under the Babylonian rule. It would have been much easier to go along with the crowd and eat the king’s food, but Daniel was willing to take a stand and go against the officials by requesting a different diet.

Challenge: How many times do we defile ourselves by giving into peer pressure and disobeying God? Would you be willing to take a stand and go against popular opinion knowing that what you are doing may cause others to reject you? Pray for strength to do whatever is right and keeps you from defiling yourself.

Cream of the Crop

The king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his court officials, to bring some of the Israelites from the royal family and from the nobility – young men without any physical defect, good-looking, suitable for instruction in all wisdom, knowledgeable, perceptive, and capable of serving in the kings’s palace – and to teach them the Chaldean language and literature. Daniel 1:3-4 HCSB

I have always heard the idiom “cream of the crop” and wondered where it originated. There is no way to know exactly, but cream has always been referred to as the richest part of the milk that rises to the top. The noun “cream” has been used since the 16th century to mean the best of the best. “The cream of the market” was used in some English proverbs by John Ray in 1678. Certainly, “cream of the crop” started out meaning the best of the crop, but has evolved to mean the best of anything in the 20th century.

King Nebuchadnezzar had deported the upper class and nobility from Jerusalem and Israel into captivity. These people were obviously leaders and could pose a threat to King Nebuchadnezzar, so it was to his advantage to maintain control of them. His plan was to train the brightest and best people (cream of the crop) to serve in His royal court. Daniel and his three friends were chosen to be a part of this elite group. They were to be given the best of the foods and wine but also the best of training and education.

Challenge: Know that because Jesus is your Lord and Savior, you are one of His chosen people. You have been chosen to serve in His service. He has promised to be with you. Thank God for the many blessings He has provided because you are one of His children. Strive to be the “cream of the crop” at any and everything you do.

The Holiness of God

“This is the law of the temple, all its surrounding territory on top of the mountain will be especially holy. Yes, this is the law of the temple.” Ezekiel 43:12 HCSB

R.C. Sproul in his classic work, The Holiness of God, puts the holiness of God in its proper and central place in the Christian life. He paints an awe-inspiring vision of God that encourages Christians to become holy just as God is holy. Central to God’s character is the quality of His holiness. Yet, most people are hard-pressed to define what God’s holiness precisely is. Many people today don’t quite know what to do with words like “awe” or “fear”. When someone encounters the holiness of God, his life is never the same. R.C. Sproul says, “The holiness of God affects every aspect of our lives – economics, politics, athletics, romance – everything with which we are involved.”

The restored temple would be the physical manifestation of the holiness of God for all to see. With the glory of God entering the temple, the holiness of God would be restored among the people of Israel. When we encounter the holiness of God, we have a better understanding of how unholy we are and how much we need God’s love and mercy. We don’t deserve to have a relationship with a holy God, but our loving Heavenly Father wants to forgive our sins and make us holy so we can have fellowship with Him.

Challenge: Think about the holiness of God. He is perfect without any sin. He is perfect love, grace, and mercy. Thank God that He is a holy God and that He wants to have a relationship with you – someone unholy and undeserving of His love. Listen to Francis Chan as he addresses the holiness of God on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQVkVRAnjvg