Convenience or Obedience?
The culture around us feels vastly different nowadays. However, many of us are fearful of looking any different and choose to live a life of social convenience rather than obedience.
Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
If you’re not in school right now, I want you to think back to when you were.
Try and think about what you learned about ancient history.
Maybe of the Greeks or the Romans.
Maybe you can remember something from Greek Mythology
If you can’t, you’ve probably seen enough movies to recognize the names of some of their gods like: Zeus or Poseidon. Apollo or Athena.
Most of the cultures from our ancient world powers (like Rome, Greece, Babylon) worshipped an entire pantheon of different gods.
And there would be people spread all across the Roman Empire that believed in all sorts of different gods…
Now in some ways, that seems like a great set-up to just keep everyone happy, right?
It’s an idea called pluralism
Which means that every god and every religion is equally valid and true.
It’s an idea that would have been REALLY prominent in Babylon, 2,600 years ago.
We’re in the 3rd week of a series called “Stranger in a Strand Land” here at Renovation, and we’re studying the life of Daniel and his 3 friends…who were Jewish exiles in Babylon
And it’s fascinating because here you have this culture 2,600 years ago…half way around the world…and we’re still dealing with the same thing today
Now, in America we don’t name all of our different ideas “gods” per se, but the dominant and prevailing philosophical thought of our day is the same:
“there are many different ways to believe…each equally true”
Each philosophy for how you should live your own life…equally true
Each modern religion…equally true
Now on the surface, it sounds like that’s an idea that should make everyone happy.
It’s an adage that makes a lot of non-religious people sleep at night, and yet makes most spiritual people (of any religion really) frustrated.
So what do you do…if you’re an American Christian…and you actually believe your faith is true??
True like there is one God (not 7…or 7 different names)…one God who sent his son Jesus as the only way for humankind to be saved (this is the basic foundation of Christianity)
And more specifically, what do you do…when that truth makes the culture around you uncomfortable…thus, making you uncomfortable?
How will you handle that tension?
THE PASSAGE & MORE ON PLURALISM
Let’s get some wisdom from the Bible and the book of Daniel
In the chapter we’re going to read today, King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, has set up a 90-foot Gold Statue and then commanded all the people to fall down and worship the image as soon as they hear music.
We don’t know exactly what the statue depicted
Perhaps an idol for one of Nebuchadnezzar’s gods
Some think it was perhaps an image of the King himself
Well, nevertheless, everybody bows down to the enormous statue…this new idolatrous god.
Because again, like I said, this is a pluralistic society…it’s just one more god…one more truth…one more way to live life…
The average Babylonian is thinking, “This is Nebuchadnezzar’s way, so it’s true for him, and I don’t want to disrespect someone else’s belief. No big deal”
So everybody bows down. Everybody that is…except for Daniel’s 3 Godly friends: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
We don’t know where Daniel is at this time. Presumably leading in a different province.
And after the 3 friends don’t bow down, some of the leading astrologers of Babylon go all “2nd grader” on these guys and they “tell on them” to Nebuchadnezzar.
Let’s join our passage there at verse 13 of chapter 3
(Daniel 3:13-30) – NIV
13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 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?15 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. 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?” 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[c] from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” 19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace.22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. 24 Then 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, Your Majesty.” 25 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.” 26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire,27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. 28 Then Nebuchadnezzar 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.29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
So our reading starts with Nebuchadnezzar giving the 3 men a second shot.
Essentially saying, “I’m sure the rumors weren’t really true about you guys, so let’s do it again…when you hear the music…just bow down and save your life!”
And yet, they don’t…and he gets furious…turns the furnace up 7 times hotter and throws them in.
Now I want to point out something that may seem small but is massively important here
Think about what Nebuchadnezzar is asking of all the people.
He’s not asking that they worship his god INSTEAD of their God, but only in ADDITION to their God.
This is what Babylonian culture (and the same with Roman culture and so on) believed.
They were not on a mission to eradicate an individual’s faith…but in public, they wanted to make sure that everybody agreed with the same basic philosophy of pluralism.
Let me state that differently
You could worship any god you liked AS LONG AS you didn’t say your God was the ONLY God.
Now this is amazing, and this is why I LOVE the book of Daniel.
The Bible is timeless, and thus it’s always timely.
Because we have the exact same thing today!
Americans do not care what you believe whatsoever.
You could believe in witchcraft & spells and worship the force from Star Wars, and our culture would say, “Whatever is true for you!”
“You can believe what you want!
But where does one get in trouble in our culture?
It’s when they say, “Our God is the only God”
Because that breaks the great foundation of pluralism: That every belief is equally true.
Here’s another way to put this:
Our culture (just like the Babylonians) does not care one bit about what you do in privacy of your own home…worship however you like…
But in PUBLIC…you better not bring your particular religion and its truth claims into that sphere.
Our great American 90 foot idol that we all are supposed to bow down to is simply to enter into society by robotically saying, “My beliefs are no more true and no better than yours, and so I will blend in and I will keep silent”
And to not keep silent…is to, like Shadrach, Meschach, and Abedengo, stand up in a sea of bowing people.
DON’T DRAW THE LINE AT CONVENIENCE, BUT OBEDIENCE
Now, as much as I’d like to stand up here and say, “And boy, don’t we resemble Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego?!
I think, the reality is, most of are much closer to the other believers who just bowed down in the crowd like everyone else.
We’re not good at this.
As Minnesotans, we may be even worse at this than other Christians…because we tend to be a bit more conflict-averse than our New England counterparts for example J
Let me give you a few examples:
-Many Christians, at work for instance, rarely stand up for their faith if someone is ridiculing Christianity or another Christian.
-Many of us are terrified of losing “position” if we were to be just as serious about our faith in the public sphere as we are in the private sphere.
If we were to stand up to the unethical practices at our business or place of work, we could lose our position.
If you were out with your friends, and everyone decided maybe the hard week called for a trip to the bar (and I don’t mean just for 1 drink or a club soda)…
Many of us…out of FEAR of what people would think of us…say nothing.
We bow down with the crowd.
I mean, we do love God…but there’s a clear line, for all of us, where we say, “Okay, I’m not going to do that for God”
Take a look at this stage.
Imagine that to your right is Godliness.
And that living all the way to the right of this stage is symbolic of living fully devoted to god.
And that living all the way to the left side of this stage would be symbolic of fully embracing everything the culture has to offer.
Most of us, in our hearts, DESIRE to live for God…and we do so (start walking to their right) UNTIL that no longer becomes convenient for us.
And when it’s not convenient, we don’t do it.
So we do things like pray at home for our co-worker to know Jesus…because we know it would impact her life…but we know that if we talked to her about it at work…we could potentially lose our position.
Well, what are you doing?
You’re saying, “I will obey you God (share my faith w/ my friends). I will obey you God UP UNTIL THE POINT…that it would be inconvenient for my own life.
And if that were to happen, well, sorry.
Our inclination is to count the cost.
And if I was to do “right” thing, what will it cost me?
If I was to, let’s say be countercultural, and give a portion of my finances back to God like the Bible says.
If I was to spend time serving the poor and spend some of my time bringing the gospel to the nations…
We ask: “If I was to do all that…what would it cost me?”
“How much would it inconvenience me?”
That’s the wrong question.
Really, there shouldn’t be a question.
It’s, “I’ll do what’s right…obey…even if it costs my life”
We’re not supposed to live a “me first” lifestyle not a “Jesus first” lifestyle
The 3 friends did not stake their loyalty to God upon how it would work out for them..
Their obedience to God’s ways wasn’t even dependent upon their deliverance.
In that famous verse, they say to Nebuchadnezzar, “But even if he does not…we will not serve your gods”
In the spring of 1940, the German army was plowing through France despite the help from more than 300,000 British troops.
(this was before the U.S. had entered the war)
Finally, the Germans surrounded and trapped most of the Allied forces at Dunkirk, a town in northern France.
It appeared that this particular division of the Allied army would probably face annihilation
Eventually, through a miraculous outpouring of courage, the British managed to organize hundreds of little ships that evacuated most of the Allied forces.
But before the evacuation, at one point when everything looked utterly hopeless, British officer sent a following message, condensed into three powerful words: "But if not …."
By quoting Daniel chapter 3, he was invoking the same courage as Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego
Even if we’re not rescued…we’re not going to cower in fear only worried about our own selves.
We will still fight anyway…because it’s right.
These 3 friends are saying, “We obey God…we love God for Himself, not just for what we get out of it”
If you’re following God just for what you get out of it, then you’re going to draw the line of where you do and do not live for God in a really different place.
But see, don’t draw the line at convenience, draw it at obedience.
Because of who your God is.
Think about a marriage.
You want your spouse to be faithful to you and to love you just because of who you are.
Not because you currently have money to give them, or you currently look great.
You want them to be faithful to you and love you simply for YOU.
And God wants the same.
He wants you to love and obey him because of who He is.
And yet, so many of us only want to obey him when we can benefit from doing so…
But as soon as obeying Him might cause us some pain or social discomfort, we are out!
But go deeper in your relationship with Him.
A love relationship draws the line of faithfulness not at convenience, but at obedience.
By the way, if you’ve been sitting here trying to think of an example of where you living your faith out caused friction with the culture…but you can’t think of any…
Chances are, you’ve already given in to the culture.
Read about the life of Jesus in the New Testament…and then imagine him moving into the Northern Suburbs
Think he’d blend right in?
Do you think he could live his entire life here and no one would even question him for living differently?
He wouldn’t even last a day without that happening!
And we, as Christians (which literally means “little Christs”) should be the same.
If you start actually DOING everything the Bible says…the people of this world will think you are the strangest, most frustrating, most gracious, most intriguing, most loving person they’ve encountered.
And I say it that way because it’s important that you don’t hear me wrongly and apply this message incorrectly.
Some Christians hear a message like this, and feel like they need to go to work and make sure everyone stops telling bad jokes and stop believing the wrong things about marriage, sexuality, or money.
It’s important that you know that our job is not to make people behave, it’s to help them believe.
If we help people act better, but don’t lead them to Jesus, we’ve put them in an even worse place where now they think they don’t NEED Jesus because they’re a good person on their own!
No, this passage applies to situations where the culture is asking YOU to compromise.
And it’s so important, for your own relationship with God, that you don’t.
MEET GOD IN THE FURNACE
Think about the amazing things these 3 men experienced because they drew the line not at convenience, but at obedience.
I fear…that for most of us, our goal has simply become furnace-avoidance.
I mean, what are most of our prayers about?
We pray, “God help me not experience any suffering or pain, discomfort, or inconvenience.”
Author John Ortberg says “Sometimes God delivers people FROM the furnace, but sometimes, He wants to deliver you IN the furnace”
So I want you to think about changing up your prayers.
Rather than constantly asking for an easier, more pleasant, and overall convenient life…start asking for God to give you courage to live for His will at all times… no matter what that brings.
Think about these 3 friends.
They stand up, in a pluralistic world, for the truth of there being 1 true God…and that 1 true God miraculously delivers them in the fire.
Being obedient to God to the point of the furnace looked like it might turn out to be the hardest and maybe even worst decision of their lives, but it turns out to be the greatest moment of their life.
An experience that I’m sure carried them through the rest of their lives
Obedience leads them to the furnace, but it’s also in the furnace where they meet God
And so I just want to tell you that why you may think you’re avoiding difficulties by only living your faith only to the point where it isn’t noticed by anyone else…but you’re also missing out on some significant things.
For one, you’re missing the movement of God in your own life every time you fear trusting Him and being bold in your faith.
What if Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had just bowed down?
They would have missed the greatest encounter with God in their lives.
What are you missing?
So many American Christians tell me, “I wish I just felt God more”
And I often think, “It’s hard to feel him when you’ve relegated him into a tiny box in your life…and you only ask him to come out if you need something”
Get serious again about living not as if God is your assistant, but that you’re his.
And start asking God for opportunities where He can shine through your devotion.
Because when you only live for Him when it’s convenient, you’re not only missing his movement IN your life, but THROUGH your life.
The 3 friends trust God, and Nebuchadnezzar puts out a proclamation about their God to all of Babylon!
The way to influence in this strange land isn’t by hiding.
Trust that when you’re sold out to Him, even if feels like someone is cranking up the furnace, that’s when God starts MOVING!!
When I was in Seminary, I remember a friend came into class one day and read us all a letter from a missionary in Turkey who had been experiencing some legit persecution for his faith.
And I’ll never forget what the letter said.
It said, “Whatever you do. Please don’t pray for the persecution to stop. Because it’s in the persecution that God is being glorified. People are noticing how different we really are, and that we love them anyway. And they’re asking questions. And God is moving.”
Friends, the answer is not in bowing down.
It’s not in assimilation.
It’s not in blending in.
It’s not in the avoidance of pain.
The early church exploded in growth while the Romans were feeding Christians to lion.
Today, Christianity is perhaps growing the fastest in China where persecution is very very real.
So let’s be careful not to assume that the path to showing God to a lost world always goes around the furnace.
Sometimes it goes right through.
Let’s not forget that the greatest demonstration of love went through the furnace of the cross…not around it.
So I want you to leave this place and start praying things like: “God, give me an opportunity to ‘cross the convenience line” and show my devotion to you”
“God, give me the boldness to live out my faith like you truly are the ONE answer in this world…because you are”
And I want you to begin to trust…that if you begin to move the line of your life over…past the convenience line…and towards the obedience line… (yeah it’s going to be hard)
But if you do… God is going to…like he did w/ Shadrach, Meschach, & Abednego… God is going to move IN & THROUGH your life more than ever.
Let me pray.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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