Life Without A Net Pt.2
Charles Blondin was the greatest tightrope artist alive in the late 19th and early 20th century. Some might argue he was the greatest ever. Blondin made a living out of walking a tight rope across Niagra Falls. I've been there a couple of times, so that impresses the heck out of me. He got so good at it that he would go out on to the high wire in outlandish ways---on stilts, with a lit stove which he used to cook himself breakfast while on the wire... pretty crazy stuff.
There is a story of how Blondin once walked out on to a tightrope during an exhibition and then wheeled a wheelbarrow out on to it and back. The crowd cheered. Blondin then asked the crowd if anyone believed he could wheel the wheelbarrow out on the wire with a person in it. They all affirmed that he could do it. He then asked for a volunteer.
That's when things got quiet.
Finally, a man volunteered from the crowd and went and got into the wheelbarrow and was wheeled out on to the wire. The man was Blondin's agent.
If anyone is going to believe in you... it's got to be your agent, right?
The agent had convictions about what Blondin was able to do, and he lived out those convictions by getting in the wheelbarrow. I also heard stories that he once rode on Blondin's back on the wire.
That's a serious conviction. Here's a little video that tells the tale if you want to hear/see it.
To sort of take what the video is saying and twist it a bit....
Your convictions don't matter a whole lot when you are sitting in the safety of the shore. They matter when you are about to get in the wheelbarrow and ride on the wire. It's that point that you better be sure about what you believe.
In our relativistic culture truth is elusive, certainty is questioned and convictions are measured not against any real standard, but against whose "freedom" is limited when they are expressed.
In other words, you can have convictions about your faith, about what you believe---just don't be surprised if your convictions cause shame and anger in people without any or with convictions of their own that bring them into direct conflict with yours.
We've seen this happening in the culture around us. Rather than affirm the existence of higher standards and convictions, it's much easier just to pull everyone down to the same level.
Let's be clear for a moment what I mean when going forward when I use the word "conviction." For the purposes of our work in Daniel today I would define convictions as ginosko. Ginosko is a Greek word that means "knowledge," but no the kind of knowledge that you gain from books. This is the kind of knowledge that comes from experience---from gut feeling.
For the Christian, convictions are those things that we ought to know to be true because we've experienced them as part of our journey with Jesus. They are the gut feelings that help us to live rightly as disciples of Christ.
I believe that those of us who call ourselves Christians are called to live with convictions. Jesus is asking us out on the wire, asking us to trust him, and we need to have the sort of convictions that will turn what we say we believe into what we do, and how we live.
These are the kinds of convictions that can change your life.
And this is sort of important for us to understand:
Living with conviction means that you say "no," to some things so you can say "yes," to the right things.
As we will discover in the passage of Scripture that we are studying today, Daniel was faced with this very decision.
Read Daniel 1:11-20
Let me share just a little bit more historical stuff so that we can see a bit more clearly how incredible Daniel's decision to refuse the king's food really was.
First, let's learn a bit more about this king, Nebuchadnezzar. Good old Nebuchadnezzar was a piece of work. To begin with, he worshipped the god, Marduk, who was one of the many iterations of the god Baal. He was famous for his devotion to Marduk and even built one of the most incredible shrines and temples to Marduk in the ancient world. The shrine and temple with ziggurat towered in the middle of the city of Babylon. The writer of Daniel describes it by using the word "shinar"---a direct reference to the Tower of Babel, which was on the "plains of Shinar." One can't help but catch the irony there.
Nebuchadnezzar like to collect things. He had a collection of kings that he would keep imprisoned and then would bring out shackled in gold chains for dinner parties. He collected the best artisans from all of the places he conquered. He would also collect the armies of conquered nations and put them on the battlefield.
And he collected the best and brightest young people to be trained in his court.
Daniel was part of this best and brightest group and was earmarked early on to be a "wise man," in Nebuchadnezzar's palace. This meant that he had to become an expert in Babylonian literature, religion, science, culture, etc. And he had to learn how to write in Akkadian, which had 100's of symbols, rather than letters. Daniel and his companions would copy literary and religious works for hours upon end---both learning the Akkadian language and being indoctrinated in the Babylonian "way."
In the passage we read, Daniel is presented with a bit of a quandary. It seems that the king wants his wise men to eat the same food that he eats, and so commands them. The typical presentation of this story focuses on the idea that because of the strict dietary laws that Daniel has as a Jew, to eat the food would be in violation of his covenant with God. But the problem is that the historicity of this claim doesn't really hold water considering what we know about Jewish restrictions at the time. Besides, the word that is used here for food is pat bag which gives no specifications regarding the type of food.
The only thing that we know for certain is that it is food given to them by the king, from the king's table. And this in itself is significant. You see, in Babylonian culture, eating the "king's food" would mean that you were now in a covenant relationship with the king.
Regardless of what kind of food it was, Daniel knew that if he and his friends ate it, they would be declaring their allegiance and a covenant with Nebuchadnezzar--who was essentially worshipped and obeyed like a god. The first commandment in the covenant with Israel goes a little something like this, "Thou shalt not have any other gods before me." If Daniel ate the king's food he would be violating this command, breaking his covenant with God and declaring his allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar, and to anything that Nebuchadnezzar did or said.
Here are some things that Daniel knew that we can learn from...
Daniel knew that by giving in and eating, he would be connected to whatever future policy or plan the king would have--regardless of whatever they might be.
Daniel knew that although the food was fit for a king, it wasn't fit for a servant of the King of kings.
Daniel knew that saying "yes" would have taken his convictions and tossed them aside, turning him into just another guy with a price.
What Daniel didn't know was how all of this was going to turn out.
There's a lot of uncertainty when you decide to stand up for something you believe in, especially in the face of persecution---or in Daniel's case, perhaps death. Some people take this story and try to extrapolate the notion that if you just stand up for what you believe in, everything will be all right.
There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Christian martyrs who would disagree with that notion.
The only thing that was certain for Daniel was what he had to do. The Scripture tells us that only Daniel and his friends refused to eat from the king's table, refused to enter into covenant with Nebuchadnezzar. This means that there were lots of Hebrew exiles who did just that.
There are always going to be people who are supposedly "on your side," who will not be able to travel with you when you decide to walk the straight and narrow...
And it's hard to stand up when you feel as though you are standing by yourself. But someone needs to stand.
This is what went through Daniel's head, I am sure. "If not me, who? If not now, when?" The idea that God prefers "obedience rather than sacrifice" was one that Daniel would have wholeheartedly affirmed.
Sure, he could have gone on worshipping, being Jewish, doing his Hebrew thing. But he would have known deep in his heart that he had given it all away just to appease the culture around him. So he did what hardly anyone else around him wanted to do. He stood for something so he wouldn't fall for anything.
I am reminded here of a line from a famous poem by William Butler Yeats, "the best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity."
Doesn't this describe our culture?
I heard a story about a guy who was watching an old fisherman catch crab. Whenever he caught a crab, the old man would throw it into a bucket next to him. The man was astounded that there was no screen over the bucket, no visible way to keep the crab inside. "How do you keep them from escaping?" he asked the old man.
"I don't have to," the old fisherman replied. "Whenever one of them gets close to the top of the bucket to crawl over, the others pull him back down."
Ever feel that way?
It's like you know what you should be doing. You should be rising to the top, living differently, holding higher standards, living with conviction. But the people and maybe even the culture around you are telling you otherwise, pulling you back down to their level.
Don't let them.
This is the kind of life that you need to be leading: A life of conviction.
From the story of Daniel we find that a life of conviction is a life that is...
1) Full of vitality. Was Daniel pale and ghostly after taking the vegetable challenge? No! Quite the contrary. Those who lack all conviction will tell you with passionate intensity that holding to your convictions will cost you more than you are willing to pay. They will, in fact, make you stronger.
2) Marked by submission. Daniel's covenant with God called him into submission to God's will. This is difficult for us frail, ornery human beings. We want to do things on our own terms, especially when our own terms keep us in good standing with the surrounding culture. In the end, it comes down to whether you want to be in submission to a loving, caring God who ultimately wants the best for you, or a culture that just wants you to be part of the crowd.
3) Defined by worship. Daniel didn't have much to offer to God at this point in his life. Everything he had known, possessed, how he had defined himself all of that had been taken away. What he did have was his sacrifice of worship. When it feels as though the weight of the world is on you. When it feels as though you have lost everything. That is when you have the most to offer, my friend. Because no longer are you depending on the treasures of this world to define your relationship with God---all you have are your convictions.
At this point someone might say, "Oh, but Pastor Leon, what you are really trying to say is that we have to live by rules, isn't it? And I'm just sick to death of Christians and their rules."
Guess what? So am I. Christians have a lot of rules. I'm not too worried about their rules, though. The ones that matter are the ones God has provided as part of the covenant relationship I have with him.
Christianity isn't all about what you can't do. But I will say this, In order to say "yes" to something you have to no to other things. Think about it. If you want to spend more time with your family, you have to say no to working more, hanging out with your buddies after work, playing golf, girls' night out...
The same is true for the Christian life. If you want to live a life of conviction, in a covenant relationship with God you have to say "no" to things that:
Compromise your relationship with God. You can just fill in the blank here for a host of temptations that come our way, pretty much all of the time. Thinking about Daniel, though, we can sum them all up by saying, "anything that threatens to become king of your life, compromises your relationship with the King of kings."
Blur your vision of what you are called to do and to be. Ever met someone who has sunk so low in their life that they no longer even recognize themselves any more? I have counseled so many people who will tell me, "Pastor, I just don't know the person I see in the mirror any more." We need to say no to the things that blur our vision. I know someone who was called into ministry, but because of family pressures and the lure of making money abandoned that calling to do something completely different. Every time I see this person, I can see what the effects of his decision have had on him as he no longer sees the person he was called to be.
Destroy a bit of your true identity. With every compromise, every deal with make with our culture regarding our convictions, we give a little bit of ourselves away. There was a teenage girl in a youth group I led years ago, who began at a young age to compromise her convictions when it came to sexual purity. She went from boyfriend to boyfriend trying to find acceptance and affirmation. What she found instead was that years later she felt used up and broken, with children from different fathers. Now in her twenties, she resembles a woman who is much older.
Steal the joy of your salvation. Christians can be the angriest, most ungrateful and sorry people imaginable. It's hard to believe sometimes just how joyless and devoid of wonder some Christians have allowed themselves to become. They have spent so much time worrying about whether the church is giving them what they want, they have missed receiving what they need. Christians need to say no to things that steal their joy---things like gossip, complaining, bitterness... the list is pretty long.
And after all is said and done, it become incredibly clear that...
Living with conviction means that you say "no" to some things so you can say "yes" to the right things.