Category Archives: Sermon Notes – 2019

No Place to Lay His Head – Dec. 8, 2019

In his 2014 movie “Time out of Mind”, Richard Gere plays a homeless man living on the streets of New York. Gere said,“When I went undercover in New York City as a homeless man, no one noticed me. I felt what it was like to be truly homeless. People would just past me by and look at me in disgust.”

The film crew was far enough away to get an honest picture of what the homeless must go through. “I will never forget the feeling of being treated like human trash,” he said. At one point, during the filming, Gere decided to eat some food thrown in a trash can. As he ate the food, most people looked away. But one person did not.

A Tourist named Karine and her family were visiting from Paris. Seeing this man eat from the garbage can, she offered him her left-over pizza and apologized because it was cold. She did not recognize the famous actor.

Gere said, “Her kindness shook me to the core, and it caused a change in me.” He continued, “So many times we forget how blessed we are. We should not take that for granted. And if we can help someone in need, we should. That’s why after I was done filming, I walked around and gave food and $100 to every homeless person I saw.”   

A few of us here today, probably know what it feels like to be homeless. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development puts out an annual report to Congress, that evaluates the plight of the homeless. They say, 1 out of 10 people will be homeless, sometime in their lives.

Their 2018 report estimated that 553,000 people were homeless on any given night in the United States. That is one in 588 persons. 65% stayed in shelters and 35% lived on the streets. Around 1/5th of these were children under 18.

Currently they estimate that there are around 5,300 homeless in Indiana. We have 146 registered shelters statewide; there are 4 here in Muncie and probably many more unregistered. And they estimate there are nearly 200 people who will need shelter each night, and we cannot house half of them.

Also, take into consideration these are only the folks we know about, many fly under the radar because they just keep moving. Some estimates double or triple the number of homeless in Indiana. And these folks have no place to lay their heads.

When the economy was bad, the numbers of homeless skyrocketed and they have just finally begun to stabilize. Now, we may think that could never happen to us, but that is false. So many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, which means many are only about 4 paychecks away from being homeless. In fact, new statistics suggest it is possible that 40% of Americans are only one paycheck away from being homeless.

Joseph and Mary knew what it felt like to be homeless. They had become engaged and were most likely married in a rushed wedding because Mary was pregnant. Then, a call came out for all citizens to return to their birth places of birth for a census.

So, while Mary was very pregnant, they headed from Nazareth to Bethlehem. They arrived late and Mary was already having mild contractions. Unfortunately, the tiny town was packed full of people.

While many translations say that Joseph and Mary were turned away from an inn, modern scholars tell us that ‘an inn’ can also be translated as a guest room. After traveling all that way, it seems more likely that Joseph and Mary would have stayed with his extended family.

But, since they already had a full house, Mary and Joseph were asked to stay in the animal cellar in the basement. Now, this raises an awful lot of questions about the family, doesn’t it? Who puts a pregnant woman in a dug-out cellar where animals are kept?

An animal cellar is drafty, dirty, smelly, cool and noisy. These are not good conditions in which to deliver a baby, right? Maybe we need to think again. While many women in that day gave birth in their own homes, not everyone did.

Some still gave birth in tents, especially if they were away from home. The reason was, they had very specific cleanliness laws. To have a baby in a home made it unclean. If you had a boy, the home was unclean for 7 days and if you had a girl, the home was unclean for 14 days. (Leviticus 12:1-5)

At this point in time, during the census, the house was full. Having a baby indoors would make everyone unclean. The best choice then, was, to place them in the animal shelter. This does change the way we view the manger scene, at least a little. Mary may have had some women there to help her. But they still wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger which is an animal feeding trough.

It just doesn’t seem right, does it, that Jesus would be born in a dug-out cellar used to keep animals. Sometimes we sing, Jesus came from heaven to earth, maybe we should be singing he came from heaven to dirt.

Paul writes to the Philippians in Chapter 2:6-7 that, “Jesus, who being the very nature of God, did not consider himself equal to God, but made himself nothing’ and he became a servant.”

Another way to say it is that he was ‘a man of no reputation’. He was homeless, common, just normal, and he blended right in.

The Bible says in Isaiah 53:2, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

Make no mistake about it, Jesus understood what it feels like to be homeless. When he came to live with us, he left his glory behind. He was at the mercy of a harsh, cruel world. A world that can be frightening and dangerous.

In fact, within less than 3 years after he was born, his family would have to pack-up and flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. Again, they were on the road — and again, Jesus would have no home.  (Matthew 2:13-15)

For most of his life, Jesus was totally dependent on strangers to feed, clothe and give him a place to sleep.

Jesus relied on being welcomed into the hearts and homes of others. And he was used to being rejected, despised, rebuffed, and turned away by people who could not see the gifts he brought to the world.

At one point in his ministry, while as he was traveling, a man approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” (Luke 9:57)

To which Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.” (Luke 9:58)

One pastor wrote, “Think about this; Jesus had to borrow almost everything he ever used in this world. He had to borrow Mary’s womb to arrive. He borrowed a cellar and a trough to lay his head. He borrowed fish and loaves to feed others.

“He borrowed a boat as a place to preach from. He borrowed an upper room for a meal. He borrowed a donkey to ride into Jerusalem. He borrowed the arms of another to help carry his cross. And he borrowed a tomb for his burial.”

2 Corinthians 8:9 reads, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich.”

The gospel isn’t talking about us being made millionaires here; it is talking about us being rich in mercy, love, hope, compassion, faith and in generosity. But many of us have it too good, and we forget what it really cost him.

In the movie ‘Homeless for the Holidays’, a smug executive named Jack thought he had the perfect life, until he lost his job. Eventually, he takes a humiliating job flipping burgers but still can’t make ends meet. He holds out hope but on Christmas Eve, he finally faces the inevitable. His family will be out on the streets.

It is a low budget film that was filmed here in Indiana. But it has a strong message about the realty of that first Christmas, as Jack realizes that Baby Jesus lay in a dirty manger, born to a poor family.

Sometimes hope comes in strange packages and from strange places. But when we get to the heart of Christmas, it may not look like anything we imagine. People were looking for and expecting a king and instead found a baby lying in a manger born to a teenage girl.

People were looking for hope in power, military might and conquest. Yet, hope came instead in unselfishness, in servanthood and in sacrifice.

We would like to believe that all the gifts, the food and the celebrations bring us closer to Christ and others at Christmas. Yet with the rush, the gatherings, the shopping and the preparation; we might actually find ourselves further from the true gifts of Christmas.

When all is said and done, we just might find that we simply don’t have any energy or room left for Jesus or others. And what a shame it would be if we miss the One who came to take away the sin of the world. What a shame if we miss the message that He came for each of us, because he loves and values us.

I want to end with this little story from Rev. Kent Crockett, it is called ‘Still Valuable’.

A well-known speaker began his seminar by holding up a twenty-dollar bill. He asked everyone at the conference, “Who would like this new twenty-dollar bill?” Hands went up all over the room.

He said, “I’m going to give this twenty-dollar bill to one of you, but first I need to crumple it.”  He wadded up the bill and then asked, “Who still wants it?” Hands were quickly raised.

The speaker dropped the bill and ground it into the floor with his shoe causing it to tear. He picked up the crumpled, torn, and dirty bill. “Now who wants it?” Everyone still lifted their hands.

“Friends, he said, “you have all learned a valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still want it — because its value hasn’t changed. Even though the bill is crumpled, torn and dirty, it’s still worth twenty dollars. Now, let’s put that in human terms,

“Although someone may have been misused, abused, hurt and mistreated, he or she still has infinite worth. Every person is precious in God’s sight.” Crockett finishes with these words, “In God’s eyes, the homeless person lying in the gutter is just as valuable as the most admired movie star.”

I would add, ‘Please don’t forget that!’

When Richard Gere played the role of a homeless man, his eyes were finally opened to the plight of others less fortunate than himself. At that time, he changed his response. And he said these words, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That is our role as Christians and it begins when we accept the Lord, share the Good News, live sacrificially, and be the change Christ calls us to be. The world needs more people to love like Jesus.

That my friends, is what Christmas is all about.

Your assignment is…to reach out to someone who feels left out this Christmas. Send them a card, place a phone call to them or even, if you are really feeling radical, invite them to dinner. You just might find, that you are welcoming angels in disguise.

May it be so,Amen

The Voice of Christmas – Dec. 1, 2019

In Greek Mythology, Echo was a spirit maiden who lived in the mountains and loved to sing and dance. She fell in love with her own voice and often gossiped. She was eventually cursed to only repeat other’s words.

Eventually, she fell in love with Narcissus, but she was unable to tell him how she felt. But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because he only loved himself. Over time, her beauty faded, and she wasted away. Today, they say, all that remains of Echo is the sound of her voice.

Have you ever gone to a place where you could hear an echo; maybe the hills or a canyon? An echo is generally softer and sounds a little hollow compared to the original voice. Sometimes it is distorted or even unclear.

The dictionary describes an echo as a reflection of an original sound that arrives to the listener some time ‘after the first direct sound’. It’s a copy and copies are never as clear as the original.

God’s promises echoed through time. The prophets had proclaimed a time when God would send a Savior, but that had been far back in the past. In fact, the last word from God had come over 400 years ago during the time of Malachi.

The priest Malachi had shared these words from the Lord, “I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day when the Lord comes.” (Malachi 4:5)

But all those who had heard Malachi were long gone. For many, God’s promise rang hollow. Had God forgotten his people? The Israelites were desperate, and they prayed for a new voice, a new prophet. But they would have to wait a while longer.

The voice of Christmas began with an elderly couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah was an elderly priest who was upright and lived blamelessly. His wife Elizabeth was also faithful and God-fearing, but they had no children because Elizabeth was barren.

As Zechariah was in the Temple burning incense to the Lord, an angel named Gabriel appeared to him. “Do not be afraid”, the angel said, “your prayer has been heard. Your wife will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” (Luke 1:13)

Most Israelites believed the appearance of an angel meant bad news or signaled the end of life, so they were often startled and afraid. But this angel had good news.

“This son will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth. He will be great in the sight of the Lord. He should never drink wine or fermented drink and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth.”

He continued, “Many Israelites will come back to the Lord because of him. And he will go before the Lord, in the spirit of Elijah.” The Spirit of Elijah means in boldness, power and holiness.

Because Zechariah questioned the angel, he was made mute and was unable to speak until after the child was born. You can read more about him and Elizabeth on your own right now I want to stay focused on John.      

After 9 months, Elizabeth gave birth to a son. And the whole community came to celebrate the birth of this miracle child born to an aged couple. On the eighth day, the child was to be named and circumcised, but Zechariah was still unable to speak. You see, it was the duty of the father to name his son and since he could not speak, the other men in the family decided to name the boy Zech Jr. to honor his father.

By giving the child the same name, it meant that this child would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a priest. But Elizabeth spoke up quickly and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

This started a debate with the family. A mother was not supposed to name her son. Also, no one in the family was named John. This name was just not acceptable. That is when Zechariah asked for a writing tablet. Then he wrote, “His name is John”. John in Hebrew means gracious.

Immediately, Zechariah was able to speak, and he praised God and sang. The villagers were in awe and the gossip spread about this child born to an elderly couple with a new name. And they asked, “What will this child one day become?”

You see, his parents had broken the mold. John would be distinct and have his own voice. He would also have a different life than his father. Eventually, John would heed the call to live as a prophet. He would leave home and live in the desert wilderness.

The life of a prophet was a simple life. It rejected the ideals of society and focused on prayer, meditation and reading the Holy Scriptures. Most likely, John lived in a cave and survived off the land which was no small feat.

John would have looked like a crazy, disheveled man to us; with long scraggily hair, wearing animal fur with a belt made of rope or leather and eating bugs and honey. But to the Israelites, he looked just like an Old Testament prophet.

Listen to how Elijah was dressed in 2 Kings 1:8, “He was a man with clothes made of hair and with a leather belt around his waist.” Looking at John was like looking at Elijah!

The life of a prophet is set apart and often secluded in the wilderness or the desert, but it is also a time spent building a strong inner spiritual life. And John’s later life, spoken through scripture, gives us clues to what he was doing in this time period.

Some of the strengths John developed in the desert were; a strong prayer life, deep knowledge of scripture that he could quote from memory, a deeper resolve in the things of God and he also mentored disciples.

In Luke 11:1 the disciples came to Jesus and asked him, “Teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” One scholar explained, “It took 20 years in the desert for John to be ready for just 6 months of public ministry.”

Some might say, it took him that long to find his voice. But, when John began preaching and baptizing, he left quite an impression. The Israelites had been praying for a sign or a prophet, now they had one. It is no wonder they came out in droves to see him. It had been almost 500 years since anyone spoke with such conviction and presence. “Repent”, he said, “For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”

This was the voice they had waited for, not an echo but a new authentic voice. Some asked him, “Are you the Messiah? Or are you Elijah?” His answer was no. This was John. He came in the Spirit of Elijah, but he was his own distinct man. Many Jews, today, are still waiting for the arrival of Elijah because John said he wasn’t him.

Yet Jesus clearly said to his disciples in Matthew 17:12-13, “But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him.” Scripture says, “That’s when the disciples understood that he was talking about John the Baptist.”

John’s light burned bright, but he burned out quickly. He was bold, direct, and brutally honest. John drew a lot of attention to himself, because people talked about him. So, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Roman soldiers also came out to listen and watch him. That is when John got political and talked against the Roman leaders. He was finally arrested after pointing out Herod’s sin and later would be be-headed at the request of Herod’s daughter.

In Matthew 11:7-14, Jesus said these words about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 

“This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you. Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 

 “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 

“And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

You see God ‘needs and wants’ new voices. The Pharisees were good at echoing the laws and words of scripture, yet they had no real voice of their own. Their words were memorized but the heart, the intent of the law, was missing.

As we begin this advent season, don’t just listen to the echoes of words written long ago, listen with new ears and an open heart. Listen for the first time, to the fresh clear voice of Christmas.

The time is at hand, repent and believe the Good News. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. “I baptize you with water”, John said, “But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”. (Matt 3:11)

“Look for yourself and see, the Lamb of God is coming to take away the sin of the world”. (John 1:29) “And he shall become greater and I shall become less”. (John 3:30)

John found his voice; have you found yours? We have a true story to tell the world; a story of a Savior who came to set us free; a Savior who forgives and loves us. And that certainly is Good News for a weary world.

Your assignment is…to listen to the voices of hope this Christmas. Ignore those who grumble and complain. Listen to for the sounds of joy, excitement and the wonder of the season. Jesus came near, and that changed everything! Believe it.

Amen.

Hope and a Promise – Nov. 24, 2019

Tired of religious persecution, a group of English Separatists decided to leave their home and travel to the new world across the Atlantic Ocean. Two ships were hired to carry the Pilgrims to the new and mysterious land.

It was July, in the year 1620, when the Mayflower was loaded up for the trip. The Speedwell was loaded up in the Netherlands and was expected to meet up with the Mayflower and the two ships planned to travel together. But the Speedwell was leaking and needed repairs. After several false starts, the Speedwell was finally abandoned. All the travelers who still wanted to take the trip boarded the Mayflower.

But the Mayflower was designed to carry supplies not people. The original plan was that the ship would carry 60 passengers and 30 crew members. It would be tight but doable. When the Speedwall was abandoned, 42 additional passengers climbed aboard the Mayflower.

Now, with 102 passengers, the ship was jam packed. The trip was supposed to take about a month, but the Mayflower did not set sail until September16, which meant they would encounter the fall storm season on the Atlantic Ocean. Because of the waves and strong winds, the ship often traveled without its sails. It also meant that the month-long trip would actually take them 66 days. 

Many of the passengers became sea-sick as huge waves crashed over the deck of the ship. The nights were cold, dark, damp, and stinky because there was no indoor plumbing or electricity. The situation for many seemed hopeless. They began to wonder why they made the trip. Food and water were rationed, and sickness took hold.

One big man began threatening to throw the sick passengers overboard. As fate would have it, he became deathly ill and died and he was the first to be tossed into the sea. In spite of the horrible conditions, only 2 perished but miraculously, they also had two births. On November 21, 1620 they landed on Cape Cod. The first thing they did when they arrived was open their Bible and read from Psalm 100 Verses 4-5;

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations”.

No matter the struggles we go through, the pain we endure or the fear we face, our hope comes from God. Someone once said, ‘No words in the English language are more devastating than, ‘There is no hope’

Dante wrote in the Inferno, that there was a sign hanging over the gate to hell that read, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Hope is in short supply today. Many people feel tossed and battered by the waves and winds of the times. And you don’t have to look much further than out your back door. As a nation, we have lost our moral high ground. God has been pushed further and further away.

God is not welcomed in many schools, offices or sporting events. Is it any wonder people are grasping at anything to feel safe or for a kind word? That seems to be why Mr. Rogers is being so lovingly embraced right now. 

Yet while we have moved away from God, God has never abandoned us. His hope, grace, mercy and promises are still offered and available to each of us. Unfortunately, when we are in the midst of a terrible storm, it is often hard to believe.

The Prophet Jeremiah understood this better than anyone. Jeremiah is often called the reluctant or weeping prophet. He was the last prophet to the southern Kingdom of Judah. He is also credited by many, as the writer of Lamentations.

To Lament is to complain, mourn or grieve. In Lamentations, Jeremiah writes, “My groans are many and my heart grows faint.” Jeremiah suffered persecution and attempts on his life. He was imprisoned, tortured and tormented. Yet he wrote these telling words in Lamentations 3:22-23; “Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new each morning; great is Your faithfulness.”  Where did this hope come from? What did he know, that we need to know?

As a young man, God called Jeremiah, and he said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

Jeremiah responds with, “I do not know how to speak; for I am only a child.” Jeremiah 1:6. Then God offered him this promise, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and I will rescue you.” Jeremiah 1:8

God had his back. No matter how tough things got, God would never leave Jeremiah. Yet in spite of that promise, Jeremiah had a tough road ahead, but he never gave up hope. His trust was in God’s goodness.

Some of you may have followed the story of Joey Feek, the singer from Alexandria and her husband Rory. She was diagnosed with reoccurring cancer and passed away in March of 2016. Before her death, she was interviewed by a reporter about her faith and her life journey. ‘No matter what life would throw at her’, she said, ‘she always had hope’.

Her hope was not in medicine but in God. ‘When all is said and done’, she said, “she was in God’s hands. And while she was able, she wanted to live life to the fullest. Each day, each moment, is precious, she said with a smile, “even in the midst of pain”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am sure she did her share of lamenting and crying out to God, how could she not? Yet in spite of everything else, she held onto God’s promises. Like Jeremiah, she trusted Him with the bigger picture.

The truth is, we all have dark nights of the soul. Even Jesus bowed his head and shed tears of blood from the anguish and suffering he endured. Yet when he was done, he turned his eyes towards heaven and trusted his Father and gave himself over to his will. Luke 22:42-44.

Jeremiah was witness to Israel’s downfall. He tried to warn others, but they would not listen. He grieved for the nation and suffered as they were scattered and enslaved.  The future was bleak and dark, yet even during all of that, God offered them some hope.

Jeremiah wrote to the exiles, these words of the Lord, “This is what the Lord Almighty says to those in exile. Settle in, build homes, marry and have children. Jeremiah 29:5-7

“Seek peace and prosperity. Pray to the lord and don’t be mis-lead. Then, when 70 years is completed in Babylon, I will come to you – and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.” Vs. 10

“For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans for hope and a future. Then, when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.” Vs. 11-12

They had to wait 70 years! Some would never see home again. Still, God gave them hope, and He made a promise to listen and to return their families to Israel. God had plans that gave them hope and a future.

The dictionary defines hope as a feeling or desire that things will turn out for the best. In essence, it is a wish. But hope defined in the Bible is something very different. It is a sure expectation, a confidence or solid certainty that rests on God and his Word alone.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 reads, “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and has put his spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

Did you get that? When we are in Christ, our hope is guaranteed. It is a promise and God always keeps his promises. You can bank on it. And God wants us to plan for a great future.

Edward Mote was born into poverty on January 21, 1797, in London. His parents were innkeepers and they wouldn’t allow a Bible in their house. But somehow Edward heard the gospel as a teenager and came to Christ.

He eventually became a skilled carpenter and owner of his own cabinet shop. “One morning,” he recalled, “it came into my mind as I went off to work to write a hymn on ‘The Gracious Experience of a Christian.’

“As I went up to work, I had the chorus running through my head: On Christ the solid Rock I stand / All other ground is sinking sand. During the day, I had the first 4 verses complete, and I wrote them down.”

At the age of 55, Edward gave up his carpentry business to pastor a Baptist Church in England, where he ministered for 21 years.

He was loved greatly by the people for his deep faith and compassion. He resigned in 1873, in failing health, saying, “I think I am going to heaven; yes, I am nearing the port. The truths I have been preaching, I am now living and they’ll do very well to die upon.”

Today his hymn, “The Solid Rock,” or “My Hope is Built” is still popular with Christians around the world. It goes, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” 

Sometimes hope has to be believed – to be seen. The folks on the Mayflower could only trust and believe in God’s good graces, to get them to the shores of the new world. It was their faith in Him that carried them through.

This coming Thursday, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day. Many of you will be busy cooking turkeys, making stuffing, baking pumpkin pies…. and watching football games. That is fun stuff.  It is important to get together with loved ones and stuff ourselves… but that is not what thanksgiving is really all about – it is first and foremost about giving thanks to the Lord.

We usually picture the first thanksgiving in America, as the time when the Pilgrims and the Indians got together for a great feast. It was the first meal and a time of celebrating their partnership.

But I tend to look at that time, when the sea battered Mayflower anchored in the bay at Cape Cod, and a group of weary and worn men and women were on their knees praising their God in heaven for bringing them safely through the treacherous sea to this new land, as the first ‘Real Thanksgiving’.

It was a time for scripture, a time to reflect on the promises of our Lord and Savior, and a time to sing praises. And I believe they did it with their entire hearts.

It was the Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith, son of an Anglican priest who wrote, “Hope like a gleaming taper’s light, adorns and cheers our way; and still, as darker grows the night, it emits a brighter ray.”    Let the light of Christ, illuminate your world.

This Thanksgiving, don’t forget to say a prayer for all the gifts God has given you and for the promises He keeps. Also, say a prayer for those who currently know only rough seas. May they also know Jesus and have the peace and hope that passes all understanding.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Amen

Not Even a Roar! – Nov. 17, 2019

During World War II, a military commander met with ‘General George Patton’ in Sicily. Almost at once, the man gave high praise to the general for his courage and bravery. That’s when Patton replied, “Sir, I am not a brave man, the truth is, I am an utter craven coward. I have never been within the sound of gunshot or in sight of battle in my whole life that I wasn’t so scared that I had sweat in the palms of my hands.”

Years later, when Patton’s autobiography was published, it contained this significant statement by the general, “I learned very early in my life to never take counsel from my fears.”

Fear is categorized as a complex base emotion. It is defined as an emotion that is induced by an immediate threat (real or perceived) to one’s health. It manifests itself, most often, in one of three ways; fight, flight or paralysis. What makes fear a complex emotion is that we can also create our own fear and anxiety, when none exists. We can literally be afraid for no good reason.

Case in point, many people saw Stephen Spielberg’s movie ‘Jaws’ back in the summer of 1975. After watching the movie, some people were so afraid of sharks that they wouldn’t get into a swimming pool. I was one of them!

Yet fear also has a good side. It can keep us safe, aware, and protected under the right circumstances. The trick is; knowing when to listen to our inner voice of reason and avoid irrational fears.

Daniel was a man who knew about fear. As a young boy he had been taken by King Nebuchadnezzar’s army and relocated in Babylon. He was a Hebrew in a foreign land; always on guard and careful not to openly offend anyone. Because his situation could change from day to day, Daniel learned to pray to God for insight, strength and peace. It was his relationship with God that helped him overcome adversity on an ongoing basis.

Daniel watched several kings come and go, each time, I am sure he wondered what would happen to him and his friends. But continually, God was able to use him to interpret dreams, visions or riddles when no one else could. It secured his position, created a sense of safety and built him an impeccable reputation.

After King Belshazzar was killed, a general named Darius was placed in charge of Babylon. He was to be the temporary king until Cyrus the supreme leader and future king took his thrown.

The Medes and Persians liked to delegate responsibilities, so Darius appointed 120 governors to rule throughout the kingdom. Then he set 3 commissioners above them, who they regularly reported to; Daniel was one of them.

Because of Daniel’s reputation, and the fact that he was not one of the Babylonian leaders, Darius trusted his judgment. All this was done, to ensure that the kingdom ran smoothly and that the king had proof of accountability. Over the next few years, Daniel distinguished himself far above the others, so Darius decided to make him chief above all the rulers. Some of the other commissioners and governors found this appalling and so they came together to find a way to discredit Daniel.  

Daniel, you see, was a Hebrew, a foreigner, and he was pushing 90-years-old. His rise to the top position made the others jealous, envious and filled them with spite. But here is the thing, Daniel’s conduct was so stellar, they couldn’t find any skeletons in his closet.

He was trustworthy, honest to a fault and never negligent. He was so esteemed, nothing would even stick to him. Try finding that in our elected officials today. And on a personal note, how many of us could stand up to that kind of scrutiny? Daniel was a man to be admired, not attacked. But the truth is, living the good life does not guarantee a trouble-free life.

In John 16:33, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Not maybe, and not, if you live a good life you can avoid it…you WILL HAVE TROUBLE. Period. Expect it. But here is the thing, the better you live your life, the less bad things will stick to you. Daniel was above reproach.  So, if they couldn’t bring him down by harming his reputation, they began looking at his personal life. Everyone has weaknesses. Here is the funny part, Daniel’s weakness, they believed, was that he prayed 3 times a day to God. So, they devised a way to use his love of God, to separate him from the king.

Now, I just want to take a moment here. Everyone knew that Daniel prayed to God regularly. He didn’t flaunt it or hide it. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his love for God. In fact, he regularly shared his feelings about God with others. He was a man who not only worshiped, prayed and talked about God, he actually practiced what you believed. He was consistent and known by his faith. I just wonder if, the same could be said about each of us?

Ok, so now, a few of the lead Commissioners and Governors went to the king. “O king Darius, live forever!” they begin, “some of the people in the kingdom still worship Babylonian gods and do not respect your authority.”

And so, all of your advisors have discussed this problem and have come up with a solution. The lie was, they had not discussed this with all the others or Daniel. But this is what they proposed, “We believe that the king should issue an edict and enforce a decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next 30 days, except for you, O King, shall be thrown into a lion’s den before sundown.”

King Darius was good in battle and he was used to men taking orders, but he had very limited exposure to manipulative, seasoned politicians. These men were appealing to his ego and pushing him to make a quick decision and unfortunately that is what he did. 

Darius used his signet ring to enact the law and from that moment, set Daniel’s fate. The background here is that once a law was in place, it could not be ignored or altered. That was the rule of law that the Medes and Persians practiced.

Daniel heard about the new law and what do you suppose he did? There was no Hebrew law telling him when or how to pray. He could have just stopped praying for the next 30 days or he could have gone into a closet to pray. But Daniel was almost 90 years old. He was set in his ways. He had a habit of praying three times a day, and he wasn’t going to stop for any man or king. He didn’t flaunt it, he simply did what he always did because that is who he was. Daniel put his relationship with God above everything else. He had his priorities right!

Then, as was his custom, he got down on his knees and prayed at the open window towards Jerusalem. I must say, he was still in pretty good shape in his late 80’s to be able to kneel. And just as soon as he started praying, the other advisors burst into his room and had him arrested. Then, they took him in chains to see the king.

The Commissioners and Governors reminded the king of his law and then they brought Daniel in as one who has violated it.

Hearing this, Darius was beside himself. He was upset and couldn’t believe what was happening. He loved Daniel like a son. So, the king brought in his best lawyers and judges and they looked for any possible loophole, but none can be found. In frustration and final abandonment, the king ordered Daniel to be taken to the lion’s den. It seems his enemies had won.

Poor Daniel had nothing to say. He had clearly broken the law and had no recourse. I cannot imagine the fear he must have been feeling as the death sentence was proclaimed. Frustrated, King Darius walked with Daniel to the Lion’s den. He refused to leave his friend in his hour of need. Then, just before he was to be tossed in, the king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”

A lion’s den is actually a pit dug into the side of a hill. There is one door on the side to put the lions in and a hole on top to toss in the victim. The lions are placed in the pit and left for 6 days with no food. Each lion weighs between 300 to 500 pounds and this pit had several.

Now, this is the scene for the execution…the condemned person is taken to the top of the pit and shoved in. Just after the person falls to the floor, the guards also drop in some bloody meat. This makes the wild, hungry beasts go into a frenzy. It is similar to the behavior we might see in sharks.

Back to Daniel,…Daniel’s knees must have been knocking as he heard the lions roar inside that dark pit.  They say a lion’s roar is so terrifying and so loud, that it can be heard up to 5 miles away. A lion can roar as loud as 114 decibels or 25 times louder than a gas-powered-lawn-motor. Daniel’s heart must have been racing and sweat poured off his brow, as they pushed him into the pit. A stone was then placed over the hole and the King placed his seal on it, so that no one could open it until he returned.

Then, the king returned to his palace to wait for morning. Darius refused to eat, brushed off all entertainment and was too upset to sleep. He just paced and his mind raced. I imagine he was upset with himself; but then he began to think about how he was manipulated by the other advisors. I am sure that we all have had those sleepless, worrisome nights, where we play-out every possible angle to try and imagine what we could have done differently.

Almost before the sun rises, King Darius rushes to the pit. So just as dawn breaks, he can check on Daniel. He is sure Daniel is dead, but he is hoping against hope for a miracle. “Daniel”, he cries into the darkness, “servant of the living God, has your God, who you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” And at first, there is only silence and his heart began to sink.

Then Daniel answered, “O King, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done anything wrong before you, O King.”

Did you catch that? An angel shut the lions’ mouths. They couldn’t even roar! And they were so calm, that they did not attack Daniel or even scratch him. Not a mark was found on his body. Some Theologians say that the angel made the lions go off to sleep. We do know that lions sleep as much as 20 hours a day. But no one knows for sure what happened in that pit.

King Darius was overjoyed, as they raised Daniel unharmed from the lion’s den. And I can almost hear him say, “Well Daniel, it appears ‘that fear is NOT a factor for you’!”

Then, the king turned his attention to the men who mislead him. He ordered those men, their wives and children to be thrown into the pit. This was also a custom of the Medes and Persians, to punish not just the individual, but also the entire family. And the Bible says they were killed instantly, and all of their bones were crushed. Crushed bones ensure that they will never rise again like the bones that came back to life in the book of Ezekiel.

Then King Darius wrote a letter of praise to God and had it read to all the people in the kingdom. And lastly, the Bible says, Daniel continued to prosper under the Mede-Persian reign.

Now, before we shift away from Daniel’s story, there are just a few things I want to say. Even though God saved Daniel from the Lion’s Den and Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego from the Fiery furnace, many other believers died as Martyrs. We all have heard of the stoning of Stephen and the death of Jesus on the cross. This story is not about doing the right thing to be saved. It is about trusting in God more than fearing mankind.

1 Peter 3 reminds us not to be afraid. Do not fear what others fear. And Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not fear those who can take a life instead fear the one who can destroy a soul.”

Then later, 1 Peter 5:7-9 reads, “Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him and stand firm in your faith.”

Some theologians have suggested that Daniel wasn’t even a real person but simply a collection of stories to help Israel stand strong during persecution. But I don’t buy that argument. Jesus mentions Daniel in Matthew 24 and if Jesus believed he was a real man, that clinches it for me.

Few people in the Bible have the integrity, character, wisdom and strength of Daniel. His life is remarkable in a book with many flawed characters. Daniel stands boldly for God through thick and thin. He is humble, thankful and generous. We should learn from him about living fearlessly for Jesus. Like him, we should not be afraid of sharing our faith, we should let people know we pray and never compromise our principles.

And here is the kicker; God used him where he was in his case, it was in bondage. But God can also use each of us, no matter where we are. In fact, God might even have placed us where we are to share the gospel in new ways and with new people.  But we have to be bold and trust him!

God can shut the mouths of the lions, so that ‘not even a roar can escape to frighten us. That is the power of our God in heaven. So, Fear Not!

Your assignment is…to be bold this week. Talk to a stranger, a co-worker or friend; look for an opportunity to be open about your faith. Then, if the opportunity presents itself, give your testimony about what Jesus has done for you. Amen.