Preached on August 13, 2017
First Baptist Cornelia, GA
The days of Daniel were not too different from ours. Daniel and his family and neighbors lived as Hebrew exiles in a foreign land called Babylon. He lived in the world’s most advanced culture surrounded by the most beautiful architecture and art of the age. The Babylonian army ruled the world with the most powerful military of the day. The Babylonian empire stretched from horizon to horizon.
One day, Daniel and three other Israelite boys were given one of the greatest opportunities of the ancient world. Selected because of their physical and intellectual prowess, Daniel and his friends moved into the royal palace to be taught the language and professional skills of the Babylonian bureaucracy to be sent out as its representatives. They were to eat from the king’s table and learn under the king’s educators.
This opportunity created a crisis of faith for Daniel and his friends. As exiles from Israel, they were raised to live in covenant with Yahweh. As the People of God, they lived with a different set of priorities than the culture around them. Daniel was forced to choose which of these priorities he would live by: The priorities of the success with the Babylonian King or the priorities of faithfulness to Yahweh – the King of the world.
We are not so different are we? We live in the greatest empire of the age whose advanced culture spreads throughout the world. Our armies are the greatest on the air, sea and land. Our influence stretches across the globe. And as free people in a free land, we are given one of the greatest opportunities of history – the opportunity to choose our own life and destiny. And like Daniel – we are must choose the priorities of success will guide our way in the world.
The culture of the American empire greatly influences each of us – young and old. The power of this culture is so great that we often fail to see where God’s priorities and the cultures priorities diverge.
This leaves us with a challenge that also faced Daniel. How will we live in a world in which we are called to be resident aliens – in the world, but not of the world?
Peter recognized this challenge as well. He wrote these words in his first letter: ““Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and temporary residents not to give in to the desires of your old nature, which keep warring against you;”
This month in worship, I’ve been preaching on the power of small groups to help us live faithful lives following Jesus. I’ve used a different classic TV clip to introduce each topic. Today’s topic is: Get Smart: Living the Bible in Groups.
Watch the Clip and see if you remember this funny sitcom of the 1960’s.
This TV show introduced us a new kind of Television comedy – parody. The lead character – Maxwell Smart, also known as Agent 86 – worked for a secret US government counter-intelligence agency called Control. Smart and his partner – Agent 99 – investigated and thwarted various threats to the world. The challenge and irony – and the place of comedy -came from the lead character’s bumbling nature and his demands to do things by the book. Get Smart had two meanings – first, those who wished to do harm to the country wanted to “Get Smart” – to get the agent who keeps thwarting their plans. But – there was this other idea – That Maxwell smart, agent 86 – needed to get smart in order to really excel at his job.
It’s this second idea that helps us think of the role small group’s play in our spiritual lives as we live in a culture drawing us away from Jesus instead of towards. Small groups help us to “Get Smart.”
Living as followers of Jesus in this culture or any culture, requires us to commit ourselves to understanding, immersing ourselves in, and living out God’s Word to Get Smart.
The Hebrew Challenge: Staying faithful to God while living in the Promised Land.
Getting Smart is how Daniel was able to choose to follow the ways of Yahweh while in exile in Babylon. Centuries before he ever stepped foot in the palace, his ancestors took God’s advice to engrain God’s Word in their lives as they moved into the Promised Land.
This is the challenge God offers to Joshua in our passage today. After 40 years of being transformed from slaves into the People of God, the Hebrews are poised to walk into the coveted Promised Land. Moses has died and his lieutenant Joshua stands ready to lead them. God instructs Joshua on how to face the greatest challenge of the Promised Land.
God is not worried about the armies across the Jordan River. God is not worried about the military technology. God is not worried about city walls or the weariness of battle. God’s greatest concern is that when the People of Israel move into the Promised Land – they will forget him. God – rightfully it turns out – worries that when the People of Israel settle among others with different cultures and different gods and different lives – they will forget all that happened in the wilderness – the giving of the 10 commandments and the law, the food and provisions God provided, and most importantly the covenant God made with them.
Because God knows what will happen, God gives Joshua and the people instructions for how to stay tuned to Yahweh, the ways of Yahweh, and the presence of Yahweh. Listen to these instructions:
This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.
To be successful in the Promised Land, God tells the People of Israel to engrain God’s Word into their daily lives. At this moment, there is no written or complete Bible. There is only the stories and laws of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and now Moses. This book is seen for the first time as sacred and holy. These words have power.
So, God says: Speak these words, discuss in your everyday lives.
So, God says: mediate on these words night and day – listening to them, reflecting on them, and letting them become part of your life.
When God’s Word becomes engrained in their lives, God says, the people will be able to act and live according to them. And when they live according to them, they will find success.
This is what happens with Daniel centuries after these words were written to Joshua. Daniel and his friends grew up with God’s word ingrained in their lives. They grew up learning and memorizing and mediating on them night and day. These words became more than words – they became God’s Living Word in them.
So – when Daniel and friends are chosen by the Babylonians to live in the royal palace, they are able to make choices based on God’s Word. They choose not to eat from the King’s table. They choose not to worship the King’s gods. They are able to do all of this because God’s Word lives in them.
The words of God to Joshua guide us as we face the challenges of living in a world and culture which contradicts God’s way. In order for us to live faithful lives to Jesus today – God’s Word must become as ingrained in our lives as it was in Daniels.
Small groups allow God’s Word to be ingrained in our lives.
Here’s what happens in small groups that allow God’s Word to become engrained in our lives.
Small groups allow us to learn God’s Word together. When we gather together in groups less than 10, we have the opportunity to not just hear a lesson about God’s Word, but to let God’s Word shape us. When one person teaches a passage of scripture we assume it is right interpretation. Yet, when we study God’s word in small groups, we hear different takes on scripture – where other life experiences allow someone else to look at it differently. With the Holy Spirit engaging us, God’s Word becomes more than words on a page - It becomes ours.
Small groups give us accountability in the discipline of reading God’s Word. When we make a covenant as a small group to read a certain amount of scripture or to study a particular passage that accountability forces us to follow through with our decision.
Small groups allow God’s Word to be ingrained in our lives.
We see this truth in Daniel’s story. Daniel is not alone. He is in a group of 4 young men. We know the others by their Babylonian names: Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego. This small group of Hebrew boys were shaped by God’s Word and were used by God to reveal the presence of God to an empire completely foreign to God’s ways.
Together, these boys faced down kings and fiery furnaces and lion’s dens. And it all began centuries earlier with instructions to mediate and Read God’s Word.
God want us to have tremendous impact on our community and world as individuals and as a church. The story of Daniel reveals that God’s cultural influence will not just happen over this year, but in the years and decades to come. God’s influence through us will begin when we also make the decision to allow God’s Word to be worked out together and lived out in the world.
This is what God wants for you, for me, and for this church. It will happen when we decide together to engrain our lives with God’s Word. Let us Pray.