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“DANIEL: A Life of Integrity”

WEEK THREE: “When Testing turns to Testimony”

This morning we’re rounding out our conversation on the subject of INTEGRITY. Our working definition comes from C.S. Lewis, who said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” In the interest of time, I’m not going to review the seven characteristics that we covered so far; but you are welcome to read them in our sermon series found on the church web page:

We are, as a reminder, using some of the stories found in Daniel to explore this all-important, yet sometimes elusive attribute called integrity. We’ve looked at Daniel in the lions’ den, and Daniel and his three amigos, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, not eating from the king’s table.

This morning let’s look at one more story about our heroes found in Daniel chapter 3. Everybody loves a good story filled with intrigue, conflict, and the strong conclusion. This story has all of these…PLUS some lessons we can learn about living a life of integrity. Let’s read the story of the fiery furnace. (Read Daniel 3:1-30.)

What a story! It begins with the dictator turned deranged want-to-be god, Nebuchadnezzar, erecting a 90-foot gold statue…an obelisk…much like our Washington Monument, only 4 times smaller. Much could be said for this type of structure in the ANE, but we will move on.

The edict was clear: bow down to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue when you hear the prescribed praise team strike up the chorus…OR BE BURNED ALIVE! Talk about a lack of separation of church and state!

We need to remember that the Chaldeans (Babylonians) worshipped many gods, their primary gods being Marduk and Baal. And there was reasonable tolerance for conquered nations—now enslaved to Babylonia—to worship their respective gods so long as they assimilated into the mainstream of Chaldean culture. That’s why in chapter 1 we read where our heroes—Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—were to be trained in the language and literature of Babylon. The idea was to form a more perfect, Chaldean world empire. Where have we seen in recent generations emperors, führers, and tzars trying to do this!

Just as we saw with the decision NOT to eat ceremonially unclean food from the king’s table, our boys were faced with another dilemma—go along with the king’s command or be burnt toast! After all, if you don’t mean it in your heart, then what’s the big deal? Besides, we can still do our Jewish thing. We can compromise for a few minutes every day so long as we stay true to our belief in Yahweh the rest of the time, right?

Friends, there is only genuine faith or counterfeit faith. There is NO MIDDLE GROUND. And that’s the first observation I want us to see today. Just as in Daniel’s day, there are counterfeit beliefs…counterfeit worship practices…counterfeit truths rampant in our culture today…and even in the CHURCH! It doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you are sincere. Folks, we can be sincere and be sincerely wrong.

In my Bible (which is YOUR Bible) the words are in red. Jesus said in John 14:6à “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Some of us don’t like to hear that. You see it as unfair to those who sincerely practice other religions. How could God be so exclusive?

But we can look back to the origins of human life. The Lord God said, “I’m giving you everything for your good. Nothing is a restriction to you…EXCEPT…the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This ONE fruit is forbidden. They can eat from the tree of life and every other tree. It’s all for their good! But they chose the ONE fruit they could not have! And because of that they were banished from the Garden and access to the tree of life.

In the fulness of time, God formed a people from all the inhabitants of the earth…a special possession…a kingdom of priests whom he bore on wings like eagles. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would become known as the Israelites, whom he rescued from 400 years of Egyptian slavery.

Yahweh showed this newly formed nation how to live in right relationship with Him, within the Hebrew community, and with all other nations. He gave them the Law—the holiness code—through Moses. And the FIRST of the commands he gives his people in the great covenant is this:

2“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3You shall have no other gods before Me.

And the second had a similar tone: 4You shall not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens above, on the earth beneath, or in the waters below. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on their children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing loving devotion to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Were these commands meant to restrict God’s people? No, they were meant to direct his chosen possession SO THAT all peoples of the earth could be drawn to the One, True, Living God!

Fast forward to Jesus’s words again—I AM…the way, truth, and life…These words are meant to DIRECT all sin-sick people to the throne of grace where there is forgiveness, restoration, newness of life, and true purpose.

Our heroes in Daniel understood that to compromise this “little thing” would mean to compromise on the whole thing. They simply could not and would not do it.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with Tommy Woods about some of his adventures in the state legislature. Fun Fact: Did you know that it was Tommy Woods who introduced the first approved bill requiring the use of seat belts in our state? There is no telling how many thousands of lives have been saved since 1992 when that bill was passed.

Well, in order to get it to pass, his bill did NOT require a financial penalty if you were caught not wearing your seatbelt. It was, in his opinion, the only way to get the measure to pass. And he made a pledge to a particular representative on the floor of the house that if he voted for Tommy’s bill, he would NEVER ask to add a fine to the seatbelt law.

Some years later, a new bill was introduced requiring a $25 fine for driving without a fastened seatbelt. They came to Tommy begging him to put his name to the new bill. Tommy refused. He said, I made a vow to that representative and will not break it. The bill passed without Tommy having to compromise in this little thing.

It’s so easy to go along with counterfeit beliefs and practices when everybody’s doing it. I spoke recently in chapel at Marshall Academy and I asked the students to raise their hands if they had ever cheated on a test. Almost ALL hands went up. Then I asked if they had every cheated on homework. Most hands stayed up. Finally, I asked if they had done either in the last week. MANY hands stayed up. After my short message on integrity, I asked on final question: How many of you do NOT intend on cheating in the future. Almost NO hands went up! It’s just too easy to compromise our integrity because EVERYBODY’S DOING IT.

We see that when it comes to social issues that run counter with God’s Word. Little by little, word by word, action by action, certain unbiblical practices become commonplace. Meanwhile, the church not only says nothing about it, the church ultimate adopts new positions in the name of inclusiveness or human rights. Friends, human rights are only trumped by God’s righteousness. Murdering innocent babies for the sake of reproductive rights must be trumped by God’s Word that says, “You shall not murder.”

Back to our story. Our heroes are caught doing the right thing…a common practice we see throughout the early chapters of Daniel. The King summons Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to explain themselves. He then gives them one more chance to acquiesce to his demands.

I love what they said to the king. It’s one of my favorite responses in all of Scripture. With respect and humility, here’s what they said again , 16“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18“But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Their faith was tested. All you have to do is bow down to this statue and you’re good to go. I’m not demanding you break Jewish dietary laws. I’m not asking you to burn the Torah. Just do this one thing. Faith tested. “Do we do it and live? Or do we decline and die?”

They chose God over culture…over the status quo. What faith that must have taken. “We don’t even need to dignify your request with a response. But just so you know…we serve a God who CAN deliver us unharmed from your fiery furnace and out of your hand. But even if He chooses not to save us, we will never serve your gods or worship your golden image.”

Here’s a second observation : when our faith is tested, the faith of those with integrity shines brighter than that of others around them. Each of us have had our fiery trials and we will have trials ahead. For Cassie and me, one of our trials has been Hannah Rose’s eating disorder. Some of you feel like you are being tested even now. Your family is coming apart at the seams. Your finances seem hopelessly ruined. Your marriage is hanging on by a thread. You want to shine for Jesus, but your light seems awfully dim right now.

Yesterday’s Seedbed Daily Text from my friend, J.D. Walt, offered some insight to what we are talking about when it comes to the struggles we face in life. Let me read some excerpts:

We all struggle. The big question we must all deal with is whether we will let go [of God] or not. How does a person let go? Most often it’s not super intentional. They just kind of check out. With all the channels of entertainment available to us and the endless streams of social media feeds, it is easy to become…distracted.

Another way we let go is through anesthetizing ourselves to the pain of our struggles. The consumption of alcohol…has arisen to the level of a sport…Marijuana in every form under the sun is rolling like a wave, state by state, across the country. People are checking out en masse.

But Jacob [who wrestled with God all night] replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

My all-time favorite teacher, Oswald Chambers, writes, “You must be willing to be placed on the altar and go through the fire; willing to experience what the altar represents— burning, purification, and separation for only one purpose—the elimination of every desire and affection not grounded in or directed toward God.”

Will we let go or hold on? There is always a blessing for those who will not let go. There’s a fitting word from the Apostle Paul found in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

Well, after our boys turned down the king’s offer, he flies into a rage and demands they all three be bound by the strongest men in the land and thrown into a blazing furnace 7 times hotter than usual. It was so hot it burned up those who were throwing them in!

The rest of the story might be called the climax. Ole’ Nebuchadnezzar peers into the flames and sees not three but FOUR figures walking around in the blazing furnace unbound! And one looks like a god! [Some translations say, like a son of the gods. Some scholars suggest that this fourth figure is the pre-incarnate Jesus walking around in that fire. Isn’t THAT an amazing thought!]

This leads to a third observation : Through whatever test or trial we go through, we don’t walk through it alone. This is how Paul explains it in 1 Corinthians 10:13à No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. Our boys were faced with the temptation to bow the knee to another god, but they boldly declined, not knowing for certain God would save them. But God was faithful. God will never leave or forsake those whose hearts are inclined toward Him!

The king is totally shocked! He commands Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to come out. But I love how he does it. He calls them: “servants of the Most High God.” You see, this TEST has become a TESTIMONY to the Sovereign Savior! And NOT by our heroes, by the VILLAN!

When our faith is tested, there will always be a testimonyà one which glorifies God or one which glorifies something or someone else. Too often we want the glory for ourselves. We will help someone in a time of need, but we claim the glory. We will make sacrifices for the church or for others, but we tend to want the recognition rather than all glory going to God. It can’t be both ways.

Well, I don’t know if the king’s heart was in the right place or not, but he sure was convinced that the God of these young, Jewish men was the real deal. So much so, that Nebuchadnezzar issues a NEW decreeà anyone speaking against the God of the Jews would be torn limb from limb and their houses burned to the ground. A little harsh, but okay.

The four takeaways this morning for me are these:

  • When it comes to our faith, there is either genuine faith or counterfeit faith. There’s no middle ground.
  • Everyone will go through trials of many kinds. Our faith will be tested. This is actually a good thing. But when we do, people of integrity have a kind of faith that shines brighter than those around them.
  • No matter what we go through, we are never going through it alone. Even in our darkest times where our faith is tested the most, God promises to be with us.
  • In every test of life, there will be some sort of TESTIMONY. The tests and trials of people with integrity will lead to a TESTIMONY OF GOD’S GOODNESS, GRACE, AND SALVATION.

CONCLUSION. Integrity…that characteristic of everyone we affirm as trustworthy, honest, and good. Being a person of integrity is not easy, but absolutely essential if we call ourselves followers of Jesus. What we think matters, but what we do is even more important. What do you do when nobody’s watching? Doing things God’s way is the best way. And even when we face the testing of our faith, we can shine bright because we are never alone. Our lives, then, will be a glowing testimony to God’s amazing grace and presence in our lives. AMEN!