Most Christians aren’t experiencing God’s best. And it’s not because God doesn’t want to give it.
We’re going to learn that there are certain factors that will seduce your soul, they will become a belief system and lies that will have you thinking you’re moving on the right path and direction to get the best out of life, that will absolutely destroy you and your relationships.
And there is another pathway that God gives that will seem very hard on the upfront, but if you follow it by His power and by His grace, you’ll receive the best that He has to give you.
So we’re going to jump in together. The greatest picture of this in the Old Testament, for me, is a teenage boy. In fact, we get his whole story. We hear about him when he’s a teenager in chapter 1, his friends, a little bit later in chapter 3, by the end of chapter 1, they give a little structural marker and it tells us that he held this role until a king named Darius, that is 539 B.C., which doesn’t mean much to you, but it means he had about a seventy year run in his job.
And the guy’s name is Daniel. So let me picture it for you. Are you ready? The year is 605 B.C., Babylon. The most powerful empire in the world - their most powerful king, Nebuchadnezzar - is moving across the known world like a wave, just conquering kingdom after kingdom after kingdom after kingdom. They are the home of the mystery religions. They have magicians and enchanters. They are arrogant. They have immorality like you can’t imagine.
This Babylon makes Vegas look like a Sunday school class. No joke. Idols everywhere, immorality in ways and practices you can’t even imagine. So king, powerful Babylon, is moving with his armies to take over the world. And over here is Jerusalem. God’s people.
But God’s people have not been following God. And so He gave them this promise in Deuteronomy chapter 28, 29, and 30 and multiple other places: “If you will walk with Me, I will be your God and you will be My people. I love you, I care for you, I want you to get the best. But if you turn away from Me, if you worship idols, if you will not fear Me,” and the idea of fear Me is doing life My way, “because I care about you, then I will bring judgment. I will scatter you to the corners of the earth.”
And so, as we open the text, if you’re Daniel, notice how it opens up. It says, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and he besieged it.” Notice the next line, “And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hands, along with some of the articles from the temple. And he carried them off from God’s temple” this is important later in the book, “to his god in Babylon and he put them in the treasury of his god.”
So, did you notice who caused the bad guys to win the battle? It was God. Why? Judgment. When we do things, whether we are a nation or an individual, that are on the wrong path, over a long period of time, after multiple warnings, God loves you and He loves me so much, I call it the velvet vice of grace.
And what He does is, you know, your life isn’t going well, you’re doing things apart from Him, God says, “Don’t do this,” and you go, “Well, yeah, maybe, maybe, maybe.”
And He will bring pressure to your health, your finances, He will ruin relationships. He loves you so much. When He sees someone headed off a cliff, He will start putting barriers up – car wrecks, health issues, job losses – He will bring all kinds of things to bear to get you to think, “Maybe, like the twelve-steppers call it, I hit bottom.”
Sometimes God allows very difficult, painful things for us to say, “You know, maybe how I’m living isn’t exactly how I ought to be living. Maybe I need to get on God’s path. And maybe the reason is that He really loves me and this difficulty is like flashing red lights. It’s like Him caring enough to bring about adversity to get my attention.” And so that’s what God is doing with this nation.
Now, the next thing you need to understand is, as they are taking over the world, they are very smart. And when you conquer kingdoms or countries, what happens is, over time, they are really spread out and they don’t have a lot of telecommunication for obvious reasons.
And so what you wanted to do is you wanted to figure out how to engraft that nation that you conquer into your culture so you don’t have coups later.
And so what they were going to do is they are going to take, from the royal family, the people who would eventually be the kings and the rulers of Judah or Jerusalem, they want to take the best, the smartest, and the brightest and we are going to hear about four of them.
And they are going to take them, this is 605 B.C. and it’s an initial, what they call, a deportation. And they are going to take them because they are the leaders and they are going to go take them to Babylon to brainwash them.
Now, in 597, they will do another one with more people and then in 587, they’ll complete it. And so, here they are, they are going to take Daniel, Meshach, Abednego, remember the story of the three guys in the furnace? They have these have these weird Babylonian names.
They are going to take them there for a three-year graduate program in brainwashing.
Now, pick it up in verse 3, it says, “Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of the court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and nobility – these are young men” notice who they’ve got, “men without physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and the literature of the Babylonians.”
And then it goes on to say, “Then the king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. And they were to be trained for three years, and after that they were going to enter the king’s service.”
So here’s what you need to get, they pull these four sharp, noble, intelligent, the best, the brightest, the Harvard/Stanford type grads, good looking, they are quick, and they are going to take them to Babylon to brainwash them.
And if you have time later today, you can read through the rest of that text and it will talk about how they are going to learn the languages, they are going to learn the worldview, they will learn the wisdom books, they will trained by the magicians and the enchanters.
They’ve got a very specific plan. They are going to change their diet, they are going to change everything about them and they are praying for the day that they would forever forget they were a Jew, they would ever remember there was a God named Yahweh, and they would see themselves as New Babylonians and then they would enter the king’s service and become a part of Babylonian culture. That’s the game plan.
Well, you’ll notice in verse 8, but Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself in this way.” Now notice the intervention here. “God caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel.”
Here’s what you have to understand: Daniel, our best research, and his three friends are, at best, fifteen to sixteen to seventeen years old. Now, how many of you have a teenager and you think, if you had a fourteen, fifteen, sixteen-year-old, you could send them to Vegas for three years without any parental oversight and be pretty happy about how they are going to turn out? Daniel’s parents did and they not only turned out, they became God’s inside men over three different kingdoms and changed the course of the world because of some convictions and courage that they had.
And as the story unfolds, Daniel was not a teetotaler and Daniel was not a vegetarian. But the wine and the meat was being offered to idols. And so they were contaminated, for Daniel to eat that would be to say, “I’m going to worship these false gods,” which was at the heart of the very first two commandments.
And so he goes to the head official and he goes, “Look, this really violates everything we believe, everything that we are. What do you say you give us a little different diet? Just vegetables and water or something like that? Okay?” And then he goes, “I can’t do that. I will get killed! If they start looking at you and these other guys, if you guys don’t look sharp, I’ll die!” And so Daniel, I love, he doesn’t get pushy, he doesn’t get holier than thou. He says, “I’ll tell you what, how about a ten-day test? Will you just work with me on this one?”
And so for ten days, they do it and then notice, in your Bible, you can skip down, and notice it says, “At the end of ten days,” verse 15, “they looked healthier and better and nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.” Then notice, “So the guard took away the choice food, gave them vegetables instead.” Verse 17, “These four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.”
And then you get to the final exam, after three years, all these people, not just the ones from Jerusalem, but from these different kingdoms, they have all been taken to Babylon, now they get an oral exam. Some of you have been there, right? You did a little graduate work and you had to write a long paper and at the end of the long paper, in my case, I remember sitting down and there was Dr. So-and-so, Dr. So-and-so, Dr. So-and-so, Dr. So-and-so. And they read my paper and had red marks all over it. And then it was the oral exam. “Chip, I noticed on your paper you said this, but what about that?” I actually kind of enjoyed it, it was sort of fun. But I have a warped sense of those experiences.
“At the end of the time set to them,” verse 18, “the king brought in the chief official, presented them to Nebuchadnezzar, the great king. He talked with them, he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; so they entered in the king’s service. In the matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the,” notice the contrast, “the magicians,” those are people who are in the occult, “the enchanters in his whole kingdom.”
Daniel and his four friends got God’s best. Daniel reveals to us how we can get God’s best. And it’s interesting, in this book, from the time he is a teenager until the time he is a very, very, very old man, he is put in positions and blessing and God upon his life that he gets the highest and the best. But it’s because he has some convictions and he has some courage and he does some things that most people are unwilling to do.
And there are just a few life lessons; these aren’t in your notes. I’d like them to just wash over you and then here’s what I want to do. As soon as I get done with this, I want to go back and just show you how these two cultures are in conflict. I want to show you the actual game plan the Babylonians, from this text, had to seduce Daniel’s soul. Because what you’re going to find is the culture that you live in is using the exact same things in your life.
And then I want to show you really quickly, what was God’s game plan? What does He do in those who want to follow Him closely to ensure that they get His best?
So with that in mind, here’s just a couple of life lessons. Kind of lean back because I think we believe some lies. Life lesson number one: We are not at the mercy of a pagan culture. Sometimes I hear, Well, you know, you just don’t understand. I’m on the road a lot. I mean, gosh, with all the media, now our kids are going to have sex. What we need to just do is just try and, you know. And, you know, under all the pressure I am, I mean, everyone is going to have some addictions…
No. I think if a fifteen-year-old, sixteen-year-old can do it God’s way in Vegas on steroids, I think you can. Second observation is: The future of our world will be determined by who captures the next generation. I mean, a lot of people are talking about our children and our children’s children and economic issues.
I will tell you, think about the spiritual and moral issues. Who captures the next generation? And in a minute I’m going to show you the game plan of God and the game plan of the world. And if you’re a parent, I’d really perk up.
Third observation is that protection of our children from our culture is impossible, but preparation of them is imperative. I mean, unless you just are independently wealthy and can move to a remote place in Montana and tell your kids that cell phones and the Internet don’t exist, you can’t protect them from stuff. But you can prepare them where they can be a Daniel in their world.
And then finally, only a generation with biblical convictions and a winsome spirit can transform the Babylon culture of our day the way that God used a group of teenagers in their day.
See, I think a lot of us, can I just be honest here? I think a lot of us have given up. You have everything you need. God’s power and His Word, in community, will give you everything you need to be the man or the woman or the student that is absolutely counter to this culture and you can experience God’s best. I don’t think we believe that. I think we are trying to hang on and create these little, little bubbles of control where, in the midst of this crazy world, somehow, my life can be okay.
And I want to tell you, He wants your life to be more than okay. He wants to shoot you like a projectile through this culture in a way that transforms those around you.
And as an old coach, I can tell you, in many sports, a great offense is better than a good defense. We don’t need to be defensive. We need to realize that God wants to use us regular people to bring about, first, where we live, and then expanding into our neighborhoods and the world that we live in.
Well, how did they do it? How does it work? Let me just give a quick overview. The historical setting you have seen. It’s 605 B.C., the place is Babylon, the reason, you might just jot the word judgment. That’s a good one for us to remember. You might jot Hebrews chapter 12 for a New Testament reference. I mean, for us, God brings about discipline, never punishment, He disciplines us for our good.
And then the spiritual climate was absolute wickedness. The Babylonian game plan to seduce Daniel’s soul that we read through is three things. They wanted to change their thinking, change his worship, and change his lifestyle. Change his thinking, change his worship, change his lifestyle.
Get information into his head that would cause him to forget his roots, you have to change your thinking. By the way, the most important decision you or, if you’re a parent, what you allow your kids, to go in their brain, is probably the most important decision you make every day.
I mean, if you read the self-help literature or you’ve been to a seminar about goals and change, what is it all about? You know what they have learned? It’s a biblical principle. “As a man or a woman thinks in his heart, so you become.” You are always a product of your thought life. You kill people for hours and hours and hours on your thumbs, why are surprised when eleven-year-olds kill six-year-olds?
When the average American home goes from seven hours a day to, now, nine and a half to ten hours a day in front of some kind of media, why are we surprised that over fifty percent of our kids are obese? You are a product of your thought life! We have more depression than any nation in the world, we have more anxiety and more violence than any nation in the world, and we are the most prosperous. Why? It’s because you are what you eat, physically. And you are what you eat, spiritually and intellectually.
And so what did the Babylonians do? “Hey, we’re going to change their physical diet, their mental diet to change their thinking, and then we are going to change their worship.”
It’s really interesting, Daniel’s name meant God is my judge. So they give him a new name that meant, The lady protect the king, the wife of Marduk or Bel, is the protector of all. So Daniel used to hear, God is my judge. And now he hears his name, The wife of Marduk, and everyone says that, and pretty soon it is to change his identity and allegiance.
Hananiah’s name meant, Yahweh has been gracious. Well, they gave him a new name: Shadrach. It means, Under the command of Aku, which was a Babylonian god. And they did that for each of the boys.
So our thinking changes and our worship tied to identity. What really matters? What’s really important? Who are the stars? Have you noticed in the last thirty years how the heroes have really changed in America?
See, when I was a kid, it’s not all that long ago, I mean, we were thinking lawyers and teachers and doctors and firemen and policemen and teachers that go to other countries and nurses were just, like, wow. I mean, they are people that love and care. See, the values were about caring and loving and now, man, I have a good friend who is a lawyer and the jokes just never end!
So, well, who are heroes? You always know your heroes by who you pay the most. Our heroes are nineteen and twenty-three-year-olds who make twenty-three million dollars for catching, throwing, kicking, or hitting a ball. Or who can dance. And finally make it on American Idol, right?
And so we have the whole world, I read a little series on one of those 48 Hours, 20/20, and there was this little book about what America’s preteens want to be when they grow up.
The number one thing that American preteens want to be? Get this. The special assistant to a rock star. Well, there’s a life ambition. Your kids are living in that Babylonian world. You’re living in it.
We’re living in the world of Fortune, People, and Cosmo. And it’s everywhere, all around you and all around me, and you will be what you think.