Monday, August 27, 2012

AN UTTERLY PREDICTABLE LIFE


Daniel 6

I was asked to speak to a group of youth leaders on becoming a credible, authentic leader. In preparing my first message, I decided to focus on two key words.  According to the dictionary, the word credible comes from the Latin credo, meaning “I believe.” If something is credible, it is believable. A credible witness is one whose testimony is trustworthy. His life and his words line up together.

The word authentic goes from English back to French back to Latin and ultimately to the Greek authentikos. It means “conforming to the original” or “reproducing the essential features” of something, as in “authentic French cuisine.” If something is authentic, it is not a fake or an imitation. Collectors will pay a lot of money for an authentic Abraham Lincoln signature. Another definition says that authentic means “being actually and exactly what is claimed,” and the example given is “genuine maple syrup.” Not watered-down, but maple syrup through and through. 

To be credible means that you are believable.
To be authentic means that you are genuine and real, not a fake or phony.


Put the words together and a credible, authentic leader is someone who can be trusted because he is what he professes to be. He is the real deal, what you see is what you get. 

We have a problem with credibility in the evangelical world. Pollsters tell us that confidence in religious leaders has declined in the last few years. With all the scandals involving ministers, it’s not surprising that people look at spiritual leaders with jaundiced eyes. While it’s always easy to point fingers at others, perhaps we need to do our own housecleaning first. 

A while back a friend emailed me with some disturbing words: 

     I have a good friend who has access to the major media star lights in ministry (radio, TV, etc.). He is deeply saddened at the carnality that exists when they walk away from the microphone. He told me last year that very, very, very few of them exercise humility, as he sees it, and many people would turn the dial if they knew how these men talked and conducted themselves in private.

I don’t know which “major media stars” he is talking about. I am sure there are some who fit this description. I know there are many who don’t.

Here are few observations about credibility. 

     1) Credibility is earned over a long period of time.
2) 
Credibility is not about what you do or what you say. It’s about who you are on the inside.
3) 
You cannot fool the people closest to you forever.
4) 
Your ministry will have lasting impact in direct proportion to the integrity of your own life.
5) 
The great enemies of credibility are pride, arrogance, isolation, and excessive self-confidence.
6) 
Ironically the more gifted you are and the more successful you are, the easier it becomes to fake your way through life.
7) 
Credibility once lost is very difficult to regain. 


What qualities mark a person as a credible, authentic leader? 

     1) Honesty.
2) 
Willingness to admit your faults.
3) 
Consistency.
4) 
Kindness under pressure.
5) 
Accountability in the small areas of life.
6) 
Willingness to answer hard questions.
7) 
Quick to take blame, quick to praise others.
8) 
Not taking yourself too seriously.
9) 
Knowing your own limitations.
10) 
Not blaming others for your own problems.
11) 
Confrontable.
12) 
Approachable.
13) 
Handling anger appropriately.
14)
 Not offended when others get the credit you deserve (no need to brag).
15) 
Keeping your word. 


There’s another word for living like this. We call it integrity.

Forks of Cypress

Several years ago my brother Andy took me to visit a cemetery outside Florence, Alabama, near the remains of an ante-bellum mansion called Forks of Cypress. The mansion was built in the 1820s by James Jackson, an early settler of northwest Alabama. My brother and I walked among the ruins of the mansion and then crossed the country road into the dense forest on the other side. After a quarter-mile we found the Jackson family cemetery. There is no sign marking the spot, only a five-foot high stone wall surrounding about 50 graves. Inside we found a tall marker over James Jackson’s grave with a long inscription extolling his virtues.

As I walked along, my eyes fastened on the marker for one of his sons. There was a name, a date of birth and a date of death, and this simple five-word epitaph: “A man of unquestioned integrity." 

Five words to sum up an entire life. Sixty-plus years distilled into five words. But, oh, what truth they tell. 

“A man of unquestioned integrity.” I cannot think of a better tribute.

There are many men and women of integrity in the Bible. Any Old Testament list would have to include Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, David, Nathan, Jehoshaphat, Elijah, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zerubbabel, Haggai, Malachi. These men and women stand like mountains towering over the flatland of unbelief, compromise and idolatry.

But for showing us to survive and thrive in a pagan world, there is no better example than Daniel.  He spent almost his whole life serving God in a pagan land under pagan kings in a totally pagan culture. And he never compromised his faith. Not even once. 

You can tell a lot about a person by the quality of his enemies. Daniel must have been a good man because he had the right kind of enemies. The people who hated him were no friends of God. They came after his faith because they could find no fault in him, and they had no answer for what he believed. 

Before we pick up the story in Daniel 6, remember these two facts: 

1) Daniel is now a very old man. He came to Babylon as a teenager. All his adult life has been spent serving in the courts of various pagan rulers. He is over 80 years old and may be closer to 90.

2) He is now serving under a new king named Darius who rules over a new kingdom, the Medo-Persian empire. The names have changed but the spiritual challenge is the same. Will he remain faithful when the pressure is on?

I. The King’s Decree

As this chapter opens Daniel is once again about to be promoted to high office. Evidently Darius recognized him as a man of integrity and wanted to make him second in command over the entire kingdom. That’s when the intrigue begins.

     At this, the administrators and the satraps 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. Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God" (Daniel 6:4-5).

This is what his enemies discovered when they examined his life: 

A.    He was faithful in his duties.
B.    
He was faultless in his character.
C.    
He was fervent in his prayers. 


These are three marks of godliness even unbelievers could see. The people who watch you can tell if you work hard at your job. They know what kind of character you have. And if they watch long enough, they will learn whether or not you are a person of prayer. Whatever is in your heart will come out sooner or later, and people who don’t know the Lord will know the truth about you. In Daniel’s case even his enemies had to admit he had no glaring weaknesses. 

Horace Greeley had a saying that Harry Truman liked to quote: “Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, riches take wings, those who cheer today may curse tomorrow, only one thing endures-character." 

Everything has changed but Daniel!
He was one way as a young man.
He was the same way as a middle-aged man.
He’s the same way as an old man.


Sometimes we act like unbelievers are stupid. They aren’t stupid at all. Unbelievers may have trouble spelling Premillennial and they may have trouble understanding the Trinity (just like the rest of us), but they can spot a phony a mile away. And they know the real thing when they see it. Daniel’s enemies envied him, but they couldn’t deny the reality of his faith.

This story reminds us that doing right is no guarantee of anything. Daniel suffered not because he did wrong but because he did right. He was hated because he was faithful to God.

The satraps said, “We’ll never catch Daniel doing something wrong unless it’s in the area of his faith.”  Let’s suppose that your enemies decided to check you out the way the satraps came after Daniel. Suppose someone hired private investigators to look into every aspect of your life, public and private, past and present. What would they uncover? Suppose they checked out your . . . 

High School & College records
Phone calls
Internet usage
Favorite TV programs
Tax returns
Business deals
Behavior on the job
Vocabulary at home
Treatment of your family
Shopping habits
Financial records
Vacation habits
Past relationships
Your bedroom
Police record
Sexual habits
Jokes
Closest friends


Could any of us survive that kind of scrutiny? Evidently Daniel could because he was “a man of unquestioned integrity.”

Daniel only had one flaw. He was so predictable! Every day he prayed with his windows open. He just kept doing the same things over and over again. 

No big deal.
No attempt to pressure others.


He had an utterly predictable faith and that’s what got him into trouble. The satraps came up with an ingenious plan in order to trap him. They convinced King Darius to issue a decree that anyone who prayed to any god or any man except the king himself for 30 days would be thrown into the lion’s den. The king went along with it because he liked the idea of people praying to him. 

Meanwhile the satraps are chortling together. They knew Daniel would break the law. That is, they knew Daniel would keep on praying just as he had always done. Daniel was a victim of his own integrity. He was predictably faithful to God. If he had been a flaky believer, this evil plot would never have worked. His troubles came not from his weakness, but from his strength. 

II. Daniel’s Devotion

So what do you do when you discover that your enemies have passed a law aimed at one person, and you are that person? It’s like walking around with a bull’s eye on your shirt. How you respond at that point tells a great deal about your character. Daniel 6:10 reveals the secret of his greatness:

     “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”

Note the last phrase-"just as he had done before.” For perhaps 85 years Daniel had prayed three times a day. Perhaps it was 7:00 AM, 12 noon, and 5:00 PM. Each day was always the same. Wherever he was, he stopped to pray at 7 AM, 12 noon, and 5 PM. Like clockwork, his daily routine revolved around three times of prayer: 7, Noon, and 5; 7, Noon, and 5; 7, Noon, and 5; 7, Noon, and 5. If he had a business trip to some remote province, he never varied: 7, Noon, and 5. If he had a few days of vacation, it was the same: 7, Noon, and 5. You could set your watch by his prayer times. 

I did the math and asked myself, “How many times would Daniel have prayed if he prayed three times a day for 85 years?” The answer comes out to over 93,000 prayers. No wonder he simply went back to his room and started praying. An 85-year habit is hard to break. Daniel just went ahead with his daily routine. No big deal. He went home, knelt down, faced toward Jerusalem, and offered his prayers to God. He did it knowing that his adversaries would catch him. 

It’s easy to think of reasons why he might have disobeyed. He could have simply closed the windows and the satraps wouldn’t have seen him pray. Or he could have said, “I’ll pray in my heart, no one will know.” After all, he was being forced to do this against his will. And it was only for 30 days. He might have reasoned that by going along with the law, he could use his influence to help others. Certainly he must have known that if he didn’t go along, the lions would eat him alive. But none of those excuses were needed because long ago Daniel had made up his mind to serve God no matter what. In a sense, his prior obedience made it easy for him. He had no decision to make. He just kept on doing what he had been doing all along. 

The Real Lion’s Den

One writer remarked that Daniel’s bedroom was the real lion’s den. That’s where the battle was fought and won. By committing himself to continuing in prayer, he won the only battle that mattered. When he won there, the real lions were no problem. We think the miracle was that Daniel survived a night with the lions. That’s a miracle, to be sure. But the greater miracle was that he continued to pray when his life was on the line. 

So what do you do when they call for the lions? You don’t change a thing. Keep on serving the Lord, keep on doing right, keep on living for Christ, and then let the chips fall where they may.

Why would a man act like this? I think there is only one answer. Evidently he was not afraid to die. Daniel knew he could die in the lion’s den, but he knew that even if he survived that encounter, he would certainly die eventually. 

The fear of death keeps many of us paralyzed in the time of crisis. Let me ask you a question. 

How much longer do you expect to live?

Everyone has an answer to that question even if we don’t want to say it aloud. If you are in your 20s, you probably expect to live at least 50 more years. If you are 50, you probably expect another 20-30 years. And if you are over 65, you certainly know that the sands of time are slipping away very quickly. 

Did you know that there is a place on the Internet where you can discover the date of your own death? It’s called DeathClock.com. You type in your birth date and your sex, hit a button, and instantly the screen will reveal your projected date of death using standard actuarial tables. After entering my information, I saw this sentence on the screen: 

Your personal day of death is . . .
Wednesday, July 8, 2025 . . . 


Then a second screen appeared with this additional information:

Seconds left to live . . .
406,541,423


That means I’ve got about 13 more years if things go as predicted. On my particular branch of the Pritchard family tree, the men don’t live very long. Most of us don’t make it to 75. On my mother’s side they live into their 80s, so I’m cheering for my mom’s genes to give me a few extra years.  

In the end I put no credence in Internet sites and actuarial tables. My life is in God’s hands and all my days are written in his book. I cannot die one second before my appointed time, and I won’t live a second longer either. After the death of his wife in 1681, Richard Baxter wrote these words that have become a great comfort to me: 

Lord, it belongs not to my care whether I die or live,
To love and serve thee is my share, and this thy grace must give.
If life be long, I will be glad that I may long obey:
If short, yet why should I be sad to soar to endless day?


Christ leads us through no darker rooms than he went through before,
He that unto God’s kingdom comes must enter by this door.
Come Lord, when grace has made me meet, thy blessed face to see;
For if thy work on earth be sweet, what will thy glory be!


My knowledge of that life is small, the eye of faith is dim;
But ’tis enough that Christ knows all, and I shall be with him!


It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” And Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., changed the face of America with these words: “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Daniel had discovered something worth dying for, which is why he kept on praying when others would have quit. Since he wasn’t afraid to die, he had the courage to live for God in a hostile world. 

III. The Lord’s Deliverance    

That night the king didn’t sleep well, but Daniel slept like a baby. The king tossed and turned, paced the floor, refused all offers of entertainment, and even refused to eat. Early in the morning he rushed to the lion’s den, hoping against hope that Daniel had somehow survived. When all is said and done, it is better to be a child of faith in a lion’s den than to be a king without God in a palace. The climax of the story comes in verse 23: 

     “When Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.”

Nothing fancy there. For over 80 years Daniel’s faith had rested in the God of Israel.That wasn’t about to change at this late date. Daniel simply kept on trusting in God, and as a result, the lions couldn’t touch him. 

Darius offers public praise to “the God of Daniel” (verses 26-27) who is the living God who endures forever. He rescues and he saves, and he is the One who delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. What amazing words coming from the lips of a pagan king. Or perhaps he is a pagan no more. Perhaps he became a believer in the one true God. We won’t know for sure until we get to heaven, but I would not be surprised to see Darius there. 

Lessons for Modern-Day Daniels

Let’s wrap up this study by considering three lessons for modern-day Daniels who find themselves facing the lions every day.

1. It is possible to live a pure life in the midst of a thoroughly pagan world.

Daniel’s story demonstrates that if you make up your mind to serve God, you can do it even in the very center of pagan government. Sometimes I talk with believers who complain about the difficulty of being a Christian in a secular environment. And sometimes they relate stories of how they suffer ridicule and humiliation because of their faith. Certainly I do not doubt the truth of what they say. But at some point we have to say to each other: 

Stop complaining.
Stop playing the victim card.
Stop talking about how hard you have it. 


Working in a high-rise office building isn’t like working at a church camp. So be it. We have to face the fact that not everyone shares our faith, and then we have to go on from there. You can live for Christ on the job, in your office, in your classroom, or in your neighborhood. There is always a way to compromise for those who want to compromise. And there is always a way to obey God for those who want to obey God.

2. God can use us to touch unlikely people when we are faithful to him.

Daniel 6 emphasizes the powerful effect that Daniel’s personal integrity had on Darius. While it is true that many of his colleagues envied Daniel and plotted to kill him, it’s also true that he made a huge impact for good on the mightiest man in the world. 

This story reminds us that not every unbeliever hates Christians. For every satrap out there planning our downfall, there is a Darius keeping an eye on us, hoping that our faith may prove to be genuine. Such people have little or no faith, and deep inside they want what we have. Even though they may never say so, they are cheering for us because they hope that what we believe will turn out to be true.

3. God is able to deliver his people from any danger they face.

If God can deliver Daniel from the lion’s den, he can surely deliver you. Generations of Christians have taken strength from this story because in the end, the hero isn’t Daniel, it’s Daniel’s God. That same God is sovereign over those who plot against you. And he is sovereign over the lions who surround you. Take heart and trust in God. He can deliver you from whatever is troubling you this very moment.

Before we leave this story, I would like to point out the gospel in Daniel 6. Daniel is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ who, though he was innocent, was envied and hated and condemned to die. He too was let down into a pit of death and a stone was rolled across the entrance and an official seal placed across the stone. Just as God sent an angel to Daniel, he also sent angels to the Lord Jesus Christ to testify “He is not here. He is risen just as he said.” From that pit of death came forth the Prince of life who has conquered death forever. 

He is Daniel’s God. His name is Jesus. He is our Savior and our Lord.

So I say to all my Christian friends, Be of good cheer! Do not fear your enemies and do not fear what they can do to you. Remember the story of Daniel and pray for the same kind of utterly predictable faith. 

Someone is watching you!
Someone else is watching over you!


In the days to come we will all face hostility in one form or another because of our Christian faith. Those who serve the Lord never have an easy road in this world. Look at Daniel. In him we see both the blessing and the burden of an utterly predictable faith. He got in trouble because of his faith, and he was delivered because of his faith. May God give us that same kind of utter predictability so that even our enemies will know we believe to Jesus.

Lord, we do not ask for an easy road but for courage to walk the path you set before us. Thank you that our lives are in your hands and that we have nothing to fear because all our days are appointed by you. Give us the predictable faith of Daniel. May our colors be clear so that everyone will know we belong to you. We do not pray for a den of lions, but we ask for courage to go there if that be your will for us. Above all else, may you be glorified in our lives so that others will see Jesus in us. We pray this in the name of him who is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Amen. 

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