A Generation with Purpose
A Generation with Purpose
Daniel spent his entire adult life in Babylon in exile, captive by a foreign power. Daniel lived in a perverse and twisted culture. He was part of a system that was bigger than he was and committed to evil. How many say, "I think I live in that kind of world right now; it's bigger than me and it's going to keep grinding away, and at times I feel like I'm a stranger in a strange land"? That's exactly how Daniel was. The world he lived in may have been bigger than he was, but it's not bigger than the God he served.
Now he's in exile. Daniel 1:3:
Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel, some of the king's descendants, and some of the nobles, young men in whom there was no blemish but good looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had an ability to serve in the king's palace."
He said I want the best and the brightest. How many know that's always the strategy of the adversary, always to take the best, the brightest? There is a generation that's been carried off into captivity.
In his lifetime Daniel will outlive three kings. He'll see three of the four kings he serves under make proclamations concerning the God of Israel as the God of the whole earth. In his day, Daniel will prophesy, he will serve with distinction, and become the focal point of encouragement in the extreme season of the captivity of Israel in Babylon.
This teaching has three distinct elements. I want to address young people. I want to address those in the middle of their careers, who right now face the fires. You've already stepped into leadership. Will you lead on God's terms? I want to talk to the third generation that's passed through that point. You are actively involved and more intensely entwined in the purpose of God than you may have any idea.
This week we celebrated the generation that liberated our nation from Nazi oppression. F years ago on the beaches in Normandy began the undoing of the demonic hand that came upon the world through Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. We celebrated that these brave and gallant men landed in Normandy, and began to push out the adversary who overtook an entire continent with all of the brutality, the abomination, the ghastly massacre that took place in the holocaust. These men are a generation to be honored.
The enemy they faced that day was clear. This bad guy wore a black hat. Everybody knew who the bad guy was. The good guys were the underdogs. From across an ocean our nation mobilized the campaign that would liberate an entire continent. These guys were bad morally. They were enemies of the free people. They spoke another language. Their talk was hateful. Their actions were abominable, and it caused an entire generation to rise and say, "We will resist this evil."
We live in a time where the evil is just as dangerous, just as hateful, just as deadly and just as morally corrupt as the generation our grandfathers fought 55 years ago. The enemy doesn't wear a black hat and doesn't speak another language. This enemy looks like those who teach in our schools and lead in our government, who take their places in seats of authority. We don't know when we click on the radio whether we're hearing a good guy or a bad guy. When we turn on the TV set or go to a movie, we don't know whether it is trying to suck the soul out of our the ectoplasmic ooze of a cosmic conspiracy that seeks to grind away the souls of our young people and families.
The good guys don't wear black hats. They don't wear white hats. They look just like the culture around us, and that's exactly the world Daniel's been sucked into.
The young Daniel remained countercultural in his faith, appetites, and purposes.
The young Daniel's culture was so thoroughly polluted God wanted to judge it. The king says, "Give us the best and the brightest, and we'll train them. We'll educate them. We'll feed them the finest food." Verse five: They'll have the delicacies. They'll drink the wine. They'll have the privilege, and they'll serve in the court of the king.
All of a sudden there's a generation that says, This isn't really all that bad. I mean, it was so bad at home that God said, "I won't have anything to do with it." If it was as bad at home as it is here, I opt for this because there's a lot of privilege.
How many of the young people in our generation they live in is bound and confused and filled with angst, so filled with a broken sense of , "I don't want to emulate what I see at home? I might as well emulate what I see in the world because it offers a whole lot more privilege than I see in my home, in a world loaded with divorce and compromise and confusion." The adversaries our grandfathers fought were clear; the adversaries we face aren't so clear, and they're compelling. Daniel's in that kind of world.
Notice the first thing they want to do. They want to move beyond. The times change and adversaries look different, but it's always the devil. Church, it's always the the devil looks like Adolf Hitler or someone in a suit and tie proclaiming another gospel in a biology class at Harvard or Yale, or somebody in a version of MTV, pumping a gospel that says, "you do whatever you want whenever you want and it feels really good while you do it."
The adversaries set against us are profound, and God is calling us to be people.
Notice what culture Daniel is sucked into. It says, feed them things that will help them grow into a taste for things of the world. Change their identity. Look what takes place, verse seven, "They gave them new names. Daniel and Hananiah and Mishael and Azariah." Each is named after one dimension of the aspects of the God they serve. Daniel, the judge of God. Azariah, God has helped. Mishael, Who is the Lord? There is none like the Lord. HananiahGod has favored. Each one had a name with a touch of the Almighty upon it, and the world immediately wants to say, Look, if you're going to play this game, we have to alter your ID. We want you to identify with the things of the world around you. Each one gets a new name.
A new dimension of identity overtakes them, but it is never accepted by this group of four. They said, "my identity is going to be in the faith, in the God that I serve." As soon as it's in anything else, the world begins to win.
There's a new generation of young people whose appetites have been determined by the world around Wine and it is in verse five. We lose our taste for the things of God and blur our senses with the wine of the world. We're overpowered by a narcotic effect that dulls our resistance to the rewards of privilege of our society and the power and status that comes with it. Every young person needs to learn that it is the desire of the adversary to pound in and through you the taste of this world.
There needs to be an appetite determined among us according to our convictions. Daniel said, "I don't want your food, and I don't want your wine." He wouldn't drink it; he wouldn't eat it. In fact, he goes to the steward who oversees them and says, "Look, we'll do our own thing. We'll eat the way we eat." They selected a simple diet, nothing at all like the world around them. It says they grew stronger and more complete in their physical appearance.
How many of our young people who have feasted at the world's table are emaciated or obese? It's not just fat. It's a thickness of is no longer any ability to reason, to say, "this is right and that is wrong." There's an obesity that comes to the thought process and an emaciation of our souls, so they shrivel up . The only thing they want is the continual desiccating influence of the world around them. There comes a point where the Lord says, "I want to seize your appetites for the things of the Lord."
I want to challenge the young people. You are more loved than you can possibly know. Keep eating the way you're eating, keep feasting at the table, and you'll starve to death. We've got an entire culture of people who are starving to more calories than they've ever eaten before in their lives, but they have no substance. They have no vitamin value, and if that's true to the physical dimension, how much more true is it at a spiritual dimension?
Notice Daniel's response. Verse eight: "Daniel purposed in his heart." His life was spared on three different occasions. The king received a prophecy and said, "None of my advisors know what this dream is about. So I'm going to kill them all. What good are they?" Daniel steps forward and says, "I'll interpret the dream. I know what that is. The living God has revealed it to me." His life is spared, and those of his companions, because he didn't allow the appetites of the world and the blurring influence to hamper his judgment and ability to discern what God was saying to him.
On another occasion the three Hebrew children are thrown into the fire, and it's because of their commitment to be the people of God that they're not consumed.
Later on Daniel is thrown in the lion's den. Three different times Daniel escaped death because he purposed in his heart to be the Lord's person. As a result of that, he was able to resist whatever assault came against him.
That's true for us today. There are arrows sent against the souls of every one of us. Our identity is found in faith, our appetites are shaped by conviction, and our training has been set for a purpose. Daniel purposed in his heart. I am not training for the world's systems. I am training to be a man of God. Daniel set himself with that purpose, and God secured him in that identity.
That's one generation.
Three contemporaries of Daniel remained unbowed in the face of crisis and compromise.
Turn with me to chapter three of Daniel where the three Hebrew children are in trouble. They had been around awhile. They are under Nebuchadnezzar's rule. Nebuchadnezzar said, everybody who's in my world, bow down to this image.
The three Hebrew children won't bow down. Azariah, Mishael, and Hananiah won't bow down. They said, "We belong to God, not to you. You can make any idol you want. Everybody else can bow down. We refuse to bow down." It was a call to compromise.
Now I want to talk to a matured group of people. You're well along in your careers. These guys were in service to the king. They had positions of responsibility. The call was to compromise. Can you imagine? They've succeeded just enough to lose everything by rocking the boat. They have earned their place. You just get along with the society around you. Don't make don't have that long to go. You've got another 10 or 15 years, and you can retire. All of a sudden the pressures come a little more profoundly. To the young generation, the appeal is to their senses and appetites. In this generation, the appeal is to security and our sense of status. We won't rock this boat, because if you rock the boat, you lose it all. "I don't want to put my retirement on the line. I've got a little bit of seniority."
There are people within the sound of my voice whom the Lord has drawn to this place to draw out of the comfort zone, where security has become your idol. The Lord says, "I'm going to allow you to face a fire hotter than you can imagine because I want to demonstrate myself stronger than you could ever imagine." There is deliverance attached to the assault against your soul. You've got to decide if you're going to live for Jesus or you're going to live for the world around you're going to opt for safety or move on the call God's put on your life.
The three Hebrew children are brought before Nebuchadnezzar. He said, "Look, when the bell rings, you do what I say. Fall down and worship." They say no, the bell rings, and they don't fall down.
They tie them up hand and foot. They stoke the fires of the furnace, and they throw all three of them in. Others die trying to stuff them into the furnace.
Security may not be a sin, but it may bind you up. Idols are our comforts, our successes, our privileges; they're not worth your integrity, your future, or your life. Don't worship that idol. Don't let yourself in for the disappointment of what those compromises mean. Don't worry about the fire! "Think it not strange, brethren, concerning the fiery trials that come against you" (James 1:2). The Scriptures warn us trials are on the way, and the Lord is here to deliver his people out of them.
They stoke the fires, and [the Hebrews] were bound up by the systems of the world around them. They were helpless to resist. In their hearts they said, no way will we obey. They were bound up and thrown into the fire, and a remarkable miracle takes place. I want to ask the question, What bondage of the world can hold us when the fire we're going through has Jesus walking with us in the midst of it? They've stoked the fires, and these brothers were not worried about it. They just go through it. When you go through those fires, and when you come out, you're not bound up any more. God's caused them to burn away.
By the way, I've watched people in their secure middle years pick fights that God wasn't in. I've watched them "diss" their employers for no good reason. They've got a notion about the way life ought to be, and they think standing up for Jesus means spitting in the face of authority. Standing up for Jesus is never spitting in the face of authority. Standing up for Jesus is to love and serve people in the midst of their confusion and be a blessing to them.
How many have ever heard that we were to love our enemies? Who said it? Jesus said it. We think we get some supernatural right from God because we're smarter and better than anybody else to walk with an absence of humility and a sense of Holy Spirit authority to walk on people we don't like. All of a sudden you recognize you get thrown in the fire because of that, and the bonds that bind you up aren't the bonds of the world around you. It's the bond of your pride, and pride goes before a fall and it always burns us. There are people who pick fights with their employers they have no reason to pick. There are times to stand, but there is no time to live as an embittered angry employee who doesn't produce maximum effort every day they go to the job.
Your testimony is wrapped around your productivity. Some of you wonder why you've never led anyone to Jesus Christ. Let me tell you: You stink as an employee. You steal your employer's money because you don't give a full eight hours work. Nobody stands up and says, "You are the best employee I've ever had." I've got news for you. If you're the best employee with the best attitude, the world will stand up and say, "Who are you and who is your God?"
Look at Daniel 3:25. While they were in the fire, Nebuchadnezzar says, "Look! I see four men loose walking in the midst of the fire. They're not hurt, and the form of the fourth one is like the Son of God." Jesus walks through the fire with the three Hebrew children, and everything changes.
There's a generation of people who have opted for security to cause their opinions to be formed. The Lord says, "I want to use you in the marketplace. Your generation will be the generation that makes this statement."
The senior Daniel remained an encourager and influencer to the coming generations.
I want to talk to the last generation of people, our seniors. Your influence over time only increases. You can see your influence over generations. Daniel was carried away as a young man. We don't know how old he was. Maybe he was a teenager, maybe early twenties, probably no later than that. He was in captivity for 70 years, because he will live to the day Cyrus sends the people back to Israel. Cyrus sends them back with a decree that says, "The God of heaven has spoken to me that I should build a temple for the Lord."
Daniel saw it in his day. Daniel was thrown into the lion's den. He was the best advisor the king had, but he had been set up. Just as the three Hebrew children had before, he'd failed the test of idolatry. As a result, he is standing for his God in the lion's den. The king is beside himself. It says the king stayed up all night. He couldn't sleep because Daniel was in the lion's den. The king was set up by his advisors who had made a plan to kill Daniel.
The next morning the king comes to him and says, "Was your God able to save you?" Daniel's response is classic. He says, "My king, yes. He shut the mouth of the lion. I'm just fine." By afternoon everyone who accused Daniel was thrown in the lion's den; every one of them was families, too, by the way.
It's a brutal statement. Look at Daniel 6:25. Daniel sees this in his lifetime. It's a new king, by the way. It's Darius, not Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar has gone the way of the Edsel. He and his family don't exist any more. They were conquered. Darius becomes the king. Now it's another generation.
Daniel stands out as such a profound leader in his day. Darius makes a decree following the incident in the lion's den. He writes:
To all the peoples and nations and languages, peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.
For he is the living God and steadfast forever. His kingdom shall not be destroyed, his dominion shall endure to the end. He delivers and rescues. He works signs and wonders in heaven and on the earth, who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.
You're not through yet. Daniel never goes back to Jerusalem. He was carried out as a young man, and now Cyrus is the king, and Daniel is an old man, probably close to 90 years old, if not older. Cyrus has equipped the returning group. The Book of Ezra tells the story of those who left Babylon and returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and temple to establish a place for the worship of the living God in Jerusalem. This was according to the prophecy of Jeremiah who said, "You will be there 70 years." He said, "You build homes. You make a living. You care for what takes place there, and you will see over the flow of the generations the faithfulness of the living God." Jeremiah 29:11: "'For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,' says the Lord, 'thoughts of peace and not evil to give you a future and a hope." The preceding verse says, "You're going to be in captivity 70 years." When those 70 years are up, the Lord will perform his good word to you. The only one who will ever see it are those who through the generations stand fast and say, "I have never seen the righteous forsaken. I've never seen God's seed begging bread. I have never seen a day or a season or a moment where the living God was not intimately involved in the details of the world around me."
It doesn't mean life was ever easy. It doesn't mean the fires didn't get hot. It didn't mean the lions didn't have real teeth. It didn't mean there weren't awful leaders sitting above us. It didn't mean we weren't in captivity. It didn't mean there wasn't bondage all around us. But it did mean this: none of those things matter when God is on the throne of our hearts and lives. There's a generation that stands up and says, "I know I have seen the faithfulness of God."
I say to the seniors, would you help another generation see the faithfulness with their own eyes in their own time? Would you help lead and serve and pray for them? Would you take a turn teaching Sunday school? "I'm pretty old." You know, those four and five year olds don't care how old you are. They just care how much you love them. You have so much to offer them. You've seen the faithfulness of G in the midst of the faithlessness of fathers who are not raising them, of money that's tight for single moms, of a culture that keeps crowding them living God wants you to crowd on in because you've got more to offer than you ever dreamed. There's a promise. You're not through yet.
Scott Bauer is senior pastor of the Church on the Way, Van Nuys, California, and a contributor to the Leadership Handbook of Practical Theology (Baker, 1994).
(c) Scott Bauer
Preaching Today Tape #214
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