This week's Bible Study - October 18, 2015
Quotes of the Week:
If you don't love what you do, you won't do it with much conviction or passion.
What do you think of when you think of conviction? For some, it can be thought of as a formal declaration that someone is guilty of a criminal offense. If you watch shows such as Law & Order on TV, you probably have heard of a conviction made by a jury verdict or a judge's decision in a court of law. Conviction can also come into play in this sense when we know we have done something wrong and we find ourselves convicted by our own behavior.
In a positive sense, conviction may be thought of a firmly held belief or opinion. Conviction in this manner can be a great driving force through life, but if your conviction is wrongly placed, you will find yourself in places that you never thought you would be. There have been numerous people who were convicted in their beliefs, leading to how they chose to live their lives. I read the story of Dietrick Bonhoeffer and his own personal convictions, which ended up costing him his life, but has been an inspiration to so many others. On the other hand, we have seen equally committed people who have made heinous choices when they refuse to look at life from any other perspective. We could mention many such cases, but just because you are convicted in a belief does make the belief true. It truly is less about the level of conviction and more about where your conviction lies.
As believers, our conviction should be to take a stand in the way we live, based on our faith. We can know that what we are standing on is true, as there are many different ways to provide a defense for our faith. Our conviction should change the way we live day by day. It influences the choices we make in our work lives, our personal lives, our family lives and how we deal with all sorts of situations. Sadly, some believers allow their personal conviction to become caustic to others. They gladly accept the forgiveness of their sins and the subsequent restoration provided by Jesus Christ; but they are often quick to point out issues in other's lives.
Our convictions will impact our choices. We can read in Scripture that we either choose the Lord or we choose the world. Romans 12:2 states "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." In many ways, the choices we make are pretty clear cut - the things of the world or the things of God. However, we will encounter other times where we must be able to please God and please the world. It is important in our jobs and in how we respond to government that we owe some allegiance to bosses and to our authorities.
The next few lessons in this series will be from the book of Daniel. At the very start of the book of Daniel, you can read that the Lord delivered Judah to the hands of Babylon. It wasn't as if that just happened one day, out of the blue. The prophet Jeremiah had been telling the wicked king Jehoiakim that he needed to change his ways or there would be impending doom. Although he was warned, he was surprised at his own defeat. Unfortunately, many of us can relate to this situation where we have made our own choices and presumed that God would cover anything that came up. At times, we may even feel convicted by God to do the 'right thing', but when we disregard that conviction, we may well be doing as it says in Romans 2, "or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" We need to realize that God's conviction in our lives should lead us to live in line with His will and to turn from areas where we are headed on our own.
The king of Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar) ordered the chief of his court officials to bring in the 'cream of the crop' out of the now enslaved Israelites. They were to be without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand and qualified to serve in the king's palace. These men were to be treated right, fed and trained as one from the king's family. The king surely felt that when he got these men on his side, serious threats against his kingdom were to be minimized. Additionally, as the kingdom expanded due to all of the Israelites, the king would need people from among the Israelites to be on his side so that it could work more seamlessly.
When we choose others, who do we choose and what criteria do we use? I remember the elementary school playground where teams were picked for kickball or any other game that we played. Fortunately, I was always one of the ones picked in the first few in my class. I did feel sorry for others that were less athletic and made to feel less than worthy because they were picked last. These kinds of teams are not picked any more as I've grown older (as we don't typically go out for recess at Boeing, even though that sounds like a good idea!), but we do tend to choose certain kinds of people for certain kinds of things. In my job, I've often noticed when certain people are more capable of performing tasks than others. When I had a task that needed to be work, I would often select the more capable to help, as I knew that could get the job done. Others may have been able to do it, but I chose people based on prior experience in working with them. We can acknowledge that some people are better at certain tasks than others, so choosing them isn't really showing preference.
We do see many times where preference is shown arbitrarily in order to accomplish some goal. For example, most companies use people with recognizable names or faces in their commercials to promote their products. Why is it when we think a famous person uses this or that it is more likely that companies think we will buy their product? Additionally, many organizations are looking for people that will make their organization look good (or at least better). Even in the church, we are often guilty of this kind of 'selective thinking. The problem is that we can often only see what people present externally and we have no idea of what they are really like. When we start basing criteria on what the world sees, we've missed the point. We aren't called to look for the best looking, most well to do, smartest and strongest people to be our spokesmen and spokeswomen. In fact, Jesus chose a rather rag tag group of disciples in order to change the world. He made it clear in many passages that He preferred the weak, as opposed to the strong, who rely upon themselves.
We can understand why the king chose these young men and you can easily understand how he hoped to woo them over to the Babylonian mindset. He likely thought that by treating them with preference, he could move them away from their other core beliefs so that he could use them as he saw fit. When we think of our world today, we can easily see how far it is leaning against our own Christian convictions. For example, there has been a shift in the education system, where students are taught values that are not aligned with their own beliefs. Rather than teaching absolute truth, there has been more of an open tolerance of any truth, with the exception of anything resembling absolute truth. Our government has passed laws that are in direct conflict with many of our convictions. We find ourselves in some serious dilemmas where we have to weigh what Paul wrote in Romans 13:1 "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established" with our own convictions. It is a difficult situation for us to understand when we should simply give in to what the government says and when we should take a stand. Just in the past couple of months, we have seen people take stands on the same sex marriage issue in their jobs and they have created quite a national stir. While some agree with the stand taken, many are unsure as to how far it should be taken, or just how a situation such as that should be handled by a believer. The point is very clear that we will encounter many situations where our convictions will be put to the test. How far will you bend in your own convictions and when will bending too far impact your witness for Christ?
We read that Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine which was given to him. He not only resolved not to take them, but he took a step out to ask the chief official for permission as not to defile himself in that manner, as opposed to going on a hunger strike. There will be times when we have the resolve on our own, but we would rather not take a stand (or let anyone know). In some cases, that is appropriate. For example, we are encouraged to fast (go without food) for a period of time in order to truly seek God. In Matthew 16:6, Jesus said "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full." So, there are times when our resolve should only be internal. Often, others around us may be participating in some behavior that we are against, but it will be enough for us to simply not participate. At other times, it may be that we need to step up and let others know that we will not participate and that we believe the behavior to be wrong.
Daniel took a stand and God blessed his resolve. God caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel. Certainly, this could have gone much worse and the official could have said that he would show no such favor, which would have been another 'interesting' twist to this story. The official was concerned, however, that by allowing Daniel to not take the food and wine that was given to the others, a situation would be created in which Daniel did not fare as well as the others. When it became apparent that the official allowed it, he legitimately feared that the king would have his head. There was a considerable risk that this official also had to take, and God worked within the heart of the official, as well as Daniel. There are times when we ask for the right things, God is pleased. In 1 Kings 3, when Solomon was asked what he would desire from God, he asked for wisdom and God was very pleased. When you have approached God with your desire, do you normally find that it is more self focused (my situation and my circumstance) or are your desires in line with what God would be pleased?
Although Daniel was in captivity, it was obvious that God's hand was one him and those around him. Have you ever considered how much impact there is based on the people with whom you associate? When you have young children, you know how important their friends can be in helping them make wise decisions or leading them down a wrong path. We often think of the collateral damage that comes in being around the wrong people and becoming more like them, or suffering the consequences that they bring upon themselves. We know and have seen what happens when you run with the wrong crowd. However, on the other side, there is great benefit in having the right kind of people who are full of conviction and are focused on the same things that we desire. Are you surrounding yourself with folks from whom you are deriving collateral benefit? And, are the people around you finding themselves more focused on godly convictions or have we led them more towards the world?
Daniel realized that the official was taking a risk in allowing Daniel to resist the royal food and wine. So, Daniel offered a test to the guard placed over himself, Hananiah (Shadrack), Mishael (Meshack) and Azariah (Abednego). He asked for them to be given nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink for ten days. Then, at the end of that time, their appearance would be compared with the others who had eaten the royal food. If, at that time, if there was no difference, the guard could return them back to the royal food and wine. Although Daniel was the one who suggested this test, his friends were willing to go along with it. Perhaps he had discussed this with them prior to saying anything, but however it happened, they were all willing to participate.
In this case, what do you think the easiest thing to do would have been? (Unfortunately, neither Berkley nor I are big vegetable eaters, so the royal food sounds more appetizing to us!) Perhaps if they ate the food, it wouldn't have big a real big deal. It seemed like such a small thing, but there was a much larger meaning that was implied. There are times in our lives where we are faced with small decisions that may seem to have little if any impact on the grander scheme of things. However, we are called to be faithful in even the small decisions and not just the ones that seem to have large consequences. In fact, if we aren't faithful in the small decisions, what makes us think that we would be faithful in the large ones?
We once again look back to how our country has gone in the past few years. At one point, prayer was in the schools, but now if prayers get said anywhere around school or school functions, there seems to be a public outcry. Nativity scenes used to be common around many courthouses and town halls. There has been more and more resistance to allowing them. The 10 Commandments used to be placed prominently in different places, including many schools. Our money says "In God we trust" and there are movements to try and remove that. One point that needs to be made, unfortunately, is that America is not where our Christian, God centered ideals are upheld. It certainly makes it easier if our country was in line with the moral code of the Bible, as it certainly seemed to be for so many generations. However, even when our country moves away from the Bible, we need to realize that, as believers, we are to be aligned with God's principles and ideals, as opposed to what the government dictates. This does create a dilemma in many cases that need to be handled one by one and unfortunately removes some core moral teaching from being learned by youngsters as they grow up in our schools.
Unfortunately, this trend of moving from God centered ideals has also impacted our churches. In many cases, the cultural shifts have defined the church's stance. When the opinion polls and political issues drive our churches and the decisions that they make, we have missed the point. In many cases, the 10 Commandments have become the 10 Suggestions. As believers, we know in reality that we have all failed different commandments at different times, but our failures do not mean that they should change. In other churches, the aspect of God being love is the key point and faith is made as if God will do what we want. This is a dangerous slide and leads to a dangerous place, as in Romans 1:24, where we can read that "God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts".
It was apparent that God's hand was on these young men. God worked in their circumstance by allowing the official to go along with their plan, and God continued to give these young men knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. There are some people that seem to be gifted in learning, but we should remember that it is God's gifting that allows people to be able to ascertain knowledge and understanding. Additionally, Daniel was gifted in such a way that he was able to understand visions and dreams of all kinds, which would come to benefit him later.
After the time had passed, the chief official presented these young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them and found that there were none equal to Daniel and his friends. God had blessed them due to their willingness to stand on their convictions and do what they knew was right to do. It went much further than what they gained in physical appearance by not partaking of the royal food and wine, but God blessed them above and beyond in other areas of life. As the king questioned them in all sorts of wisdom and understanding, he found them to be ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
As we read this story, we need to understand that Daniel and his friends were in a situation that they likely would not have chosen. However, being in their circumstance of slavery to Babylon, they made the best of it by doing what they knew they should have done. Instead of indulging with what the Babylonians offered to them, they stood by their convictions and continued to live in a way that was pleasing to God. There are many who may read this lesson, finding themselves in a life circumstance that they would have rather not chosen on their own. It could be based on a medical diagnosis, such as we are dealing with. It could be based on career problems, job losses or financial struggles. It could be due to a family that has been torn apart, forcing everyone to learn how to deal with a different way of life. We all will find ourselves in situations that we would rather not choose, but in those situations, we have a choice as to how we will handle it. Will we live as God called us, where we are, or are we going to mope around and allow the circumstances of life to define us?
When we think of our own convictions, we can see that they play a large role in our habits, attitudes and how we deal with life in general. Are we living in a way that agrees with how God would have us live? Have you examined the motives in why you do what you do, and are in you in line with becoming the person that God wants you to be?
When we think of this story, Daniel and his friends really gave little by asking to be able to stick to their diet. In the grand scheme of things, although that may have been a difficult situation at the time, it seemed rather insignificant. However, by making these small choices, God gave much and it had a profound impact on their lives.
Our challenge today is to figure out how we keep ourselves unstained by the world. This gets harder and harder to do. We are bombarded by all sorts of things that are directly opposed to the things of God. Our society moves further and further from where we know we should be. Our entertainment choices have changed, bit by bit, to the point of where we celebrate all sorts of behavior that is contrary to what we know to be true (and would never have been accepted even a few years ago!). If we took a step back and looked at our own lives, we can likely recall a time (or multiple times) where we ended up far from where we know we should have been. In most of those times, we can see a pattern, where our behavior deviates in small, almost seemingly imperceptible, inconspicuous ways. However, as we start to accept small changes in our behavior, we tend to believe that we have it all under control. Over time, this behavior tends to grow and grow, until we are likely to find ourselves one day engulfed. We don't just wake up one day knee deep in sin. It is many small decisions in which we have strayed little by little. Have you ever thought about even small attitudes that you know to be wrong and where that might lead if you they were to continue to grow? Are you willing to take a stand to halt wrong behavior before it overtakes you?
As believers, we all provide a witness to our faith. You may not be a minister or serve in some high profile position in a church. However, we all serve as witnesses in our lives, at work, in our neighborhood and among others that we spend time with. Even our time on social media provides a witness of sorts. People are not looking for a 'Christian' persona, but the aspects of a true Christian in what we say and how we deal with issues in our lives. We need to realize that all aspects of our lives are to be given to God and in many ways are spiritual. We need to find it within us to take a stand and do what we know is right. We know that we have received so much more in Christ that we could ever gain in this life. As one has said "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose". Everything that this world can give us is temporary at best. What we have in Christ is eternal. Where will you take a stand?