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Living Above the Crowd

We make a difference in our world when we live with godly integrity.

One of the most stirring passages in literature is Polonius's advice to Laertes in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Laertes has won his father's consent to leave Denmark for France. There seems to be a tug at the old man's heart as he sees the young man eager to try his wings, to challenge the future. Perhaps Polonius is haunted by memories of his own yesterdays. His counsel is warm with the wisdom of affection and experience. "Beware of entrance into a quarrel," he warns. "Give every man thine ear but few thy voice. Neither a borrower or a lender be," he cautions. "Take each man's censure but reserve judgment for thyself. And this above all, to thine own self be true, and it shall follow as the night the day. Thou canst not be false to any man. Farewell, my blessings season this in thee."

Laertes ventured into the future with noble guidance. Be true to yourself. Live above the crowd. Polonius's desire that his son possess ethical congruence is admirable, for integrity is the sine qua non of effective ministry in a missionary age. Someone once said, "What you do speaks so loudly I can't hear what you say." Edgar Guest, the poet, said, "I'd rather see your sermon than hear it any day. I'd rather it should walk with me than merely tell the way. The eyes are better pupils and more willing than the ears. Fine counsel is confusing but example always clear. And best of all, the teachers are the ones who live their creed, for to see good put in action is what everybody needs."

Aristotle had his tripod of ethos, pathos, and logos, if you're going to make an effective impact, if you're going to persuade. Logos, of course, is reasoned argument. Pathos, the emotions we engender. But ethos is absolutely critical—character excellence—and without ethos we cannot make the impact God desires us to. We see it in the examples of televangelists and political leaders who are caught, detoured by some moral deviancy. Even though the pathos remains the same and even though the logos is the same, they are like Samson shorn without the moral authority of ethos.

I present a man who lived above the crowd: Daniel. Daniel 1:8 states:

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat nor with the wine which he drank. Therefore, he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. God had brought Daniel into favor [verse 9] and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, "I fear my lord the king who hath appointed your meat and your drink. For why should he see your face worse liking than the children, which are of your sort? Then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king." Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, "Prove thy servants I beseech thee, ten days, and let them give us pulse to eat and water to drink."

Daniel was taken as a prisoner of war when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah in 606 b.c. Nebuchadnezzar was a shrewd tactician. He took not only the treasures of the temple, but he took young people, the children of the nobles, knowing that if I have them in Babylon I will be able to keep reigns on the puppet ruler who remains behind. Moreover, I will take these teenagers'—I will change their names; I will give them a new language, Aramaic; I will train them at the University of Babylon. And eventually I will be able to send them back home to keep things the way I would like them to be.

We have every reason to believe that most of the young people went along with Nebuchadnezzar's scheme. They ate his food. They drank his wine. But Daniel decided to live above the crowd, to make an impact upon that pagan generation. What a missionary challenge Daniel had. He made such an impact that King Nebuchadnezzar said everybody better worship Daniel's God or I'll throw you in the fiery furnace. He made an impact on his age. What were the practices that enabled Daniel to live above the crowd?

We live above the crowd by resolving to stay on the right path

Practice number one, Daniel resolved to stay on the right path. Verse 8 says "He purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king's meat or the wine that he drank." Daniel knew the food had been offered to idols. Daniel knew there was lobster and catfish on the menu, and Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 said that should be on a hit list. Daniel said I am going to stand up for my God, no matter what it takes. I'm going to keep to the right path.

Purpose. You must make up your mind in advance. The prudent, says the Book of Proverbs, sees the evil and hides himself. What should be the purpose of Christian preachers who want to make an impact in a missionary age? Matthew 6:33 says, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you." What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God? Our blessed Lord taught us to pray "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." The kingdom of God comes to us when the will of God is done in our lives, when we are within the circle of God's will.

Sometimes being in the circle of God's will means that you're not going to be the great evangelist that you dreamed of being. Sometimes you must be like Noah—preach for a century and only baptize your family. We must be satisfied to be in the will of God and to play the part that God intends for us to play. And that is easier said than done.

Plato described the human will as a charioteer with two headstrong horses each pulling in the opposite direction. Paul cried out in Romans 7 "The good that I would do, I do not." I can identify with that. One poet declared "There's a little bit of bad in the best of us and a little bit of good in the worst of us. So it behooves the best of us not to talk about the rest of us." There is a civil war going on inside of each of us, but I am so glad that to pursue right paths I don't have to do it in my own strength.

Second Corinthians 5:21 says, "God made him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus." When I look at Barry Black and I'm not feeling very satisfied, I look to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and know that I am covered by his imputed and imparted righteousness, and I lose my trepidation and anxiety because when I know that when God looks at my life he says: This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.

Resolve to stay in right paths.

We live above the crowd by receiving God's favor for fidelity

Practice number two, receive God's favor for fidelity. Verse 9 says, "And God brought Daniel into favor and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs." We've got to interact with people who do not know our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We need the Holy Spirit to give us favor. We need the Holy Spirit to break down barriers and open doors, and the power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when we are covered by his righteousness extends to us a favor.

Proverbs 12:2 says, "A good man receives favor from God." The fifth psalm, verse 12, says, "The righteous are surrounded by a shield of God's favor." I'm a military man, and we talk about strategic shields, but I'd rather have the shield of the favor of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ than any kind of technology the military can put up. The psalm says, "No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly." The psalm says "Delight thy self in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart."

The favor of God is there for us. The hundred and sixth psalm, verse , said, "He made them to be pitied of them that carried them captive." They received the favor of God. Our Lord had favor. Luke 2:52 says, "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man."

Illustration: I once had a boss, and before I went to the assignment several people pulled me aside and said, "This is not the most progressive gentleman. In fact, an individual with your paint job may not be very popular with this guy." When I was introduced to him, someone said, "Sir, this is Chaplain Black." His first words to me were "You're name is Black, and you are black." And I thought to myself, Well, at least he has vision, but, Lord, what am I getting myself into. I stayed on my knees and I tried to do my work, and three months after I was on the job he called me in and had me standing at attention. And he looked at me with confusion on his face, and he said, "I don't know why I like you." And I said, "Well, I'll take that as a compliment, sir." And he said, "That will be all." And as I left I thought to myself, I know why he likes me. My Savior Jesus Christ has covered me with the robe of his righteousness, and I am entitled to certain rights and privileges as a child of God. I am surrounded by the shield of God's favor.

We live above the crowd by expecting our faith to be tested

The third practice, expect your faith to be tested. We have a man coming and saying: Daniel, I really would like to help you. But, look, my head will be on the chopping block with Nebuchadnezzar if you're not looking right. Daniel, I can't do it. I want to do it, but I can't do it.

Now I know about prosperity religion—name it and claim it, take it home and frame it. Call it and haul it. I understand that kind of religion. But my friends, we must expect our faith to be tested. Must I be carried through the skies on flowery beds of ease while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas? First Corinthians chapter 10 says, "There is no test that comes to you that is not common." Don't think of yourself as unique. Others are going through the same thing.

I think of Brother Elijah, a great preacher, trying to make an impact in the missionary age. Intrepid when he stood up against the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, but a woman sent him running. Under a Juniper tree with suicidal ideations, he was too afraid to take his own life, so he said, "God, you do it." And when they began to dialogue, Elijah said: O God, I am the only one left trying to serve you and make an impact in this missionary age.

Watch out when you have the Elijah complex. Accept vicissitudes. Expect fiery trials. Second Timothy 3:12 says, "Yea, and all who live godly will suffer persecution." If you're not experiencing vicissitudes, you'd better check up on your life.

We live above the crowd by maintaining a positive attitude

Practice four, maintain a positive attitude. Daniel positively reframed the challenge. "Give me a test. Give me a vegetarian meal, pulse and water." Sounds like an interesting diet. "For ten days." Test us and see. Daniel did not walk around with a chip on his shoulder. One of the reasons why we don't make an impact is because we are so negative as Christians. I was disillusioned with the church as a young man because almost every member in my church could give me the 25,000 Thou shalt nots. I thought there were only ten commandments.

Daniel did not balk when they changed his name. Daniel accepted his new language, Aramaic. He wrote some of his Book in Aramaic. Daniel did not try to flunk out of the University of Babylon. He graduated summa cum laude. Daniel 1:20 says, "When Nebuchadnezzar tested him at the end of three years," "in all manner of wisdom and knowledge." Daniel was not just two or three times smart; it was exponential. Ten times smarter. Daniel maintained a positive attitude.

Romans 12:21 says, "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."

I love Joseph. Nave kid. Any time you can't see the homicidal ideations of your brothers, that's naivet. Walking around with his coat of many colors: I had a dream the other day, fellows. Can I tell you about it? We were in a field among sheaves of wheat, and they bowed down to my sheaf. Hey guys, I had another dream. Would you like to hear about it?

Young fellow was slow. Daddy sends him off, and he's walking: It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor.

And his brothers say, "Behold, the dreamer comes. Come now and let us kill him, and we will see what will become of his dreams."

My sisters and brothers, when you've got the Lord Jesus Christ living on the inside, how can you not be positive? He went from the pit to Potiphar's house, but they couldn't keep him down. The favor of God—he was in charge of Potiphar's house after a while. He went from Potiphar's house to the prison. The favor of God—he was running the prison. And the thing that amazes me—thrown in jail for attempted rape. He's walking around the jail. He sees the butler and the baker talking. "Why are you sad today?" I mean it's like they're at a party somewhere. Joseph maintained a positive attitude; and had he not reached out to the butler and the baker he would have aborted the will of God, for God had a plan for him.

Maintain a positive attitude. I think about Naaman's maid in 2 Kings 5, a captive who could have been all angry, . "I don't do windows." But instead when she saw general Naaman, a military man, having leprosy, she said: I know somebody who knows somebody who knows what to do for the general.

Maintain a positive attitude. Let the winds blow and the storms rise, but learn contentment that Paul had. Even when you're chained between the guard, maintain that attitude.

We live above the crowd by harnessing prayer power

Practice number five, harness prayer power. It's a motif through the Book of Daniel. Daniel was a praying man. He had a career that spanned seven decades. Babylon fell. MPersia arose, and Daniel was still the head honcho. You couldn't keep that man down. He was like the Energizer bunny. He kept going and going and going and going. But Daniel was a man of prayer.

When he needed an interpretation for Nebuchadnezzar's dream, he prayed. In Daniel 6 his enemies used his prayer life. He prayed three times a day, and verse 10 of Daniel 6 says, "When he knew that the writing was signed, he went in, opened the shutters, prayed and gave thanks to God." First Thessalonians 5:18 says, "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God concerning you in Christ Jesus." Not for everything but "In everything give thanks." Harness prayer power.

Jesus lived above the crowd. He resolved to stay on right paths. He said to his enemies in John 8, "Which one of you can convict me of sin?" Jesus lived above the crowd. Our blessed Lord received God's favor. God was able to say to him at his baptism, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." He had favor. Jesus lived above the crowd. He expected to be tested and set his face like a flint toward Jerusalem. He maintained a positive attitude. He even made excuses for his disciples. "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And on Calvary, they drove nails through his hands until his blood gushed out like a ruptured waterline, but as he entered the pool of suffering, he did so with a prayer to God on his lips. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And the last words he uttered from the cross were the words of a prayer. "Into thy hands I commend my spirit." He harnessed prayer power.

Oh my friends, if we're to make an impact on this age, we must live above the crowd.

And if we will do so, like William Cullen Bryant's Thanatopsis,

We will be able to so live that when our summon comes to join the innumerable caravan where at each must take his place within the solemn halls of death, we'll go not like the quarry slave, scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust and looking to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, we will be able to approach our grave as one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Barry Black, former head of Navy chaplains, is chaplain of the United States Senate.

(c) Barry Black

Preaching Today Tape #246


A resource of Christianity Today International

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Sermon Outline:


The life of Daniel shows five practices that enabled him to live above the crowd.

I. We live above the crowd by resolving to stay on the right path.

II. We live above the crowd by receiving God's favor for fidelity.

III. We live above the crowd by expecting our faith to be tested.

IV. We live above the crowd by maintaining a positive attitude.

V. We live above the crowd by harnessing prayer power.


Jesus lived above the crowd by practicing all five of these things.