This past Tuesday night, Pastor Will and I went to the Warriors game against the Blazers. Thanks to someone else’s generosity, our seats were closer to the court than either of us had sat in before. At halftime, we were down by 17. But in the 3rd quarter, the Warriors started an incredible comeback and won the game decisively. We had a blast. The energy in the Chase Center was amazing. We walked away from the arena talking about what a great experience we had.
Hundreds of people step into Epic every single Sunday. And just like at a Warriors game, it’s the people on our teams that determine the experience of those who attend. If you aren’t on an Epic team yet, would you join one today? This is one of the primary ways we’ll see our vision become a reality.
Who you have become is the only person you can bring into any moment.
And when life is normal, circumstances are favorable and there is no current threat to your life and well-being – it’s easy to appear to be something that you are not. But when the pressure increases, the stakes get higher, and the challenges get more intense – appearances begin to fade and you’re left with the actual substance of who you are.
And for good or bad, there are massive implications on the other side of who you become. You have become a particular kind of person up until this very moment. You will spend this upcoming week becoming a certain kind of person. You will spend the rest of 2023 becoming someone. And when you breathe your last breath, you will have become a specific kind of person.
Who have you become so far?
Who do you want to become in the future?
Are you willing to do whatever it takes to become that person?
There is no value in me teaching you how to care more about your appearance. Instagram already does a brilliant job at that. So does your LinkedIn profile. So does the media. So do your coworkers and classmates. And your default mode and my default mode instruct us to care most about our image and how we appear.
But there is great value in us learning how to care about the substance of who we are. Who you are is the only person you can take with you into your dating relationships or your marriage. Who you are is the only person who walks into work with you every day. Who you actually are is the only person you can truly bring with you into this Epic Church community. And who you are is the only person you take into the fire of life with you. By fire, I mean the trials, tests, temptations, and all the things that bring great intensity and pressure to your life.
Today we’re beginning a new series called Through the Fire, a study on the life of Daniel. How did Daniel become who he needed to be to make it through the fires of his life? And how did the fires he walked through prepare him for even more challenging times in his future?
Let me give us some context and background for what we find in the book of Daniel. One of the major themes in Daniel is how God’s kingdom always surpasses and outlasts any earthly kingdom. And like Daniel, we too must decide:
What king and kingdom will we ultimately live for?
Daniel’s name means “God is my judge”. In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army besieged Jerusalem and carried Jews back to Babylon, where they lived in exile. Babylon was probably the largest city in the world at this time. It is located in what is modern-day Iraq, around 50 miles south of Baghdad.
Daniel 1:1-8 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility – young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego. 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 this way.
Nebuchadnezzar besieges Jerusalem. He takes some articles from the temple of God and puts them in the temple of his own god in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar’s god is most likely the god Marduk – the chief god of the Babylonians.
Not only did Nebuchadnezzar take some things away from Jerusalem, but he also took some people. Don’t miss something significant about this. The text says that God gave these things and these people into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. Why? God had given them numerous chances to repent, but they refused to do so.
This is the first of 4 times that Nebuchadnezzar went to Jerusalem and carried exiles back to Babylon. Exile is a term synonymous with captivity. During this first one, here’s the kind of person Nebuchadnezzar wanted to bring back with him: young men (these guys were probably 14 or 15), from royal families and nobility, with no physical defects, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well-informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. These men had to be incredibly gifted. And whether you and I would make this list or not, we have all been given gifts from God. And here’s what we can know about our gifts:
What God gives you is His gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to God and the world.
Are you using your gifts to honor the God who gave them to you?
These young men had to decide and so do we.
What did Nebuchadnezzar intend to do with these young men? He intended to form them into who he wanted them to become. What was he using to do this? Training them in the language and literature of the Babylonians, giving them certain kinds of food and drink, and he changes their names. He’s seeking to remove their given identity from them and to bestow on them a Babylonian identity. His end goal is their formation.
Are you self-aware enough to know how the world around you is seeking to form you?
Ben, the world around me isn’t forming me. I actually spend most of my time alone, just doing stuff on my phone. No one is forming me.
“Whether we know it or not, see it or not, or understand it or not, we are always at risk of being shallowly formed. We are formed by our false selves, our families of origin, the highly manipulated presentations of social media, and the value system of a world that determines worth based on accomplishments, possessions, efficiency, intellectual acumen, and gifts. So we need to be regularly called back to the essence of our lives in God. That essence is one of ongoing transformation; that is, Christ being formed in us.” Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life
Did you notice the amount of time Nebuchadnezzar’s training was to last? 3 years. That might standout to you. It’s about the same time Jesus took to train his disciples before he left this earth.
And here’s what I believe is the key verse for all of Daniel:
Daniel 1:8 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 this way.
All decisions in life are not equal. There are easy decisions, some decisions that are a bit harder, and then there are the hardest kinds of decisions to make. And also there are some decisions you must make first before you can make other ones. And it’s also true that if you make the hardest decisions first, the other ones can actually get a little easier – even if they’re still costly. I’ve titled this message, “The Decision of All Decisions”.
Daniel makes a pre-decision. Do you make pre-decisions before you get to the specific decisions? Have you made a decision about what you will and won’t do with your life, before you face the temptations that are coming for you? Have you decided what you will allow and what you won’t allow when it comes to your dating relationships? I talk to people all the time who are trying to justify why they’ve lowered their standards for who they’ll date or marry. When it comes to your generosity decisions, have you pre-decided how much you’ll give or are you waiting to see what else comes your way?
We long to keep our options open. We don’t draw a line in the sand about what we’re willing to do and what we’d never be willing to do.
If we don’t make intentional decisions about our own formation, then we will be formed by everything around us.
These were not the only 4 Jewish men who were taken into exile. Why are we only reading about these 4 guys? I have a guess. It’s probably because the other young men, even if they had good intentions about staying faithful to their God, were formed into the people Nebuchadnezzar wanted them to become. Many of us have been formed by the world around us and we don’t even know it.
Intention isn’t enough to orient your entire life around Jesus; you must resolve to do this.
Like Daniel, we must decide on the front-end who or what is going to form us.
“We make our decisions, and then our decisions make us. In the beginning we have a choice, but eventually, we have a character.” John Mark Comer, Live No Lies
“Character is a word that describes the default ‘me.’ The person I am over the long haul in life. The person who emerges in the most difficult, challenging moments. Character identifies the attitudes, convictions, and resulting behaviors that distinguish my life.” Gordon MacDonald, A Resilient Life
What king and kingdom will you live for?
You’re being formed by the world around you. Do you have an active plan for your own counter formation?
What pre-decision do you need to make? Before you start dating. Before you go on another business trip and feel lonely. Before you’re asked to compromise your integrity to make a significant deal happen.
Following Jesus is the great pre-decision for every person who isn’t yet a Christian and for everyone who is. If this isn’t your pre-decision, then something else is king of your heart.