Different is Good
Get into Good Trouble
Good morning Chapel family. So good to be with you today. We are taking this fall to walk through the book of Daniel, which begins at a really dark moment in the history of Israel. In the year 605BC, Jerusalem was conquered by the greatest superpower in the world at that time, the kingdom of Babylon. And part of Babylon’s strategy was to select the most promising young men from among the captives, and train them to serve the Babylonians. And the story focuses on four of those select, young, Hebrew men: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
So these four guys immediately start feeling the tension of being followers of God, living in a very godless place. And we’ve been saying every week that, as followers of Jesus in 2020 America, we should feel some of that same tension. Right? I mean, some of the values of God’s kingdom fit in pretty well with modern American culture. But some of them don’t. So there will be times when we intentionally choose to be different because of our faith in Christ.
So in chapter one, Daniel and his friends show their differentness by refusing to eat the gourmet food that’s offered to them from the king’s table. In chapter two, Daniel shows his differentness by having the guts to tell King Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom is going to be temporary, and the only eternal kingdom is the kingdom of God. In chapter three they get their third test, which comes in the form of a new law that goes into effect. Daniel himself doesn’t show up in this chapter. It’s all about his three friends, who are now known by their Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
I’m calling today’s message “Get into Good Trouble,” and my inspiration for that title is the late Civil Rights leader, John Lewis. He’s best known for his civil rights work, especially leading the first march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. He was beaten and arrested and jailed many times. This is probably his most famous quote—he said, “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” So that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Because different is good…even when being different gets you into trouble.
So…let me give you three key words to hang this message on. Here they are: Pressure, Resistance, and Deliverance. Pressure, resistance, and deliverance.
So first, let’s talk about Pressure. Daniel chapter 3, verse 1: 1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, (that’s about 90 feet high by 9 feet wide) and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. 2 He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. 3 So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it.
4 Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: 5 As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6 Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
Now: it never tells us what the statue was a statue of. It might have been a giant statue of King Nebuchadnezzar. It might have been a statue of Marduk or another one of the other Babylonian gods. But in some way, it represented either the Babylonian kingdom or the Babylonian religion. So he gathered together all his key leaders from around the kingdom, some of whom were ethnic Babylonians, but many of whom were the brightest and the best from all the nations that Babylon had conquered—like Daniel and his friends. And the message was very clear: no matter where you come from, and no matter what you might have worshiped in the past…we all bow to Babylon now. This is now your highest and ultimate authority. And we will not tolerate any dissent.
I was a psychology major in college. And one of the classic psychological experiments we learned about was called the Milgram Experiment. It was conducted by a guy named Stanley Milgram in the early 1960s. They brought the subjects into the lab, and they sat them in front of an electric shock machine. On the other side of the window there was another person, who was actually in on the test—he was an actor. And they hooked that other person up to the shock machine with wires. And the goal was to teach this other person some new words. So if you were the test subject, you would read the word, and then give some multiple choice possibilities. And if the person on the other side of the window got the wrong answer…your job was to administer a shock. And every time there was another wrong answer, you were supposed to increase the intensity of the shock.
After a while, the guy hooked up to the wires started screaming with pain. And as the voltage increased, he would start banging on the wall and begging it to stop. (Of course they were just acting—there was no actual shock). And on this machine, at the highest levels of voltage, the label actually said, “Danger—Severe Shock.” And here’s the key: all the while, there was this scientist in a white lab coat, standing next to you, saying, “It’s okay—the experiment must go on.” What do you think you would do?
Well, here’s what happened: even though many of the people were uncomfortable doing it, 65% of them gave the highest level of shock, which was supposedly 450 volts of electricity. Even though the guy in the other room was screaming in pain and begging him to stop, the guy controlling the machine listened to the voice of the authority…and kept pushing the button.
Isn’t that disturbing? Stanley Milgram wrote a summary of the study, and let me quote one line: He said “[When people] are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.” Did you hear that last part? Relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.
So back to Daniel 3. There was a very clear voice of authority speaking to the people: bow down to the statue. So what did the people do? Verse 7…all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold. What do you think you would have done if you were there? Can you imagine the pressure to conform in that moment? Even if your moral sense told you that it wasn’t the right thing to do, can you imagine how tempting it would have been to go along with it?
Now: if the king had taken attendance, he would have found out that a few guys were no-shows. Which leads to our second point: Resistance. Pick up the story in verse 8: 8 At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever! 10 Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, 11 and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” Do you see how they appeal to the king’s pride? “These guys are completely disrespecting you. They pay no attention to you.”
Verse 13: 13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
Now, in this case, the moral issue was really clear. When they heard everyone talking about this statue, they didn’t have to say, “Guys, what do you think? Should we worship it?” The First Commandment says you shall have no other gods before me. The Second Commandment says don’t make any kind of image and bow down to it. So it was clear to these Hebrew men that they were called to be different. Despite the huge pressure to conform, and despite the terrifying consequences of not conforming, following God clearly meant resisting the king’s order.
Do we ever face situations like that? Well, not exactly. I’ve never been asked to bow down to a 90-foot statue. But if we think about what that statue represented, we face things like this all the time, don’t we? Aren’t there ideas and values that popular culture expects everyone to bow down to? Aren’t there certain issues where people expect us to get in line, and conform? I think we could talk about those things under two headings: sometimes we’re called to be different by what we don’t do, and other times we’re called to be different by what we do do. So let’s take those one at a time.
Sometimes following Jesus means resisting, and being different, by what we don’t do.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the king’s statue.
In Nazi Germany in the 1940s, a pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer refused to support the government. Almost everyone else did, but he refused to bow down to Hitler, and it cost him his life. But his courage has inspired millions of people.
In 1955, a black woman in Alabama named Rosa Parks was ordered to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Do you realize that when that happened, she was sitting in a row with 3 other black people? And when the bus driver told them all to move, the other three got up and moved. But Rosa said, quote, “I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.” The bus driver said, “If you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.” And quiet, reserved Rosa Parks—who never thought of herself as a troublemaker—said, “You may do that.” She was arrested; she was fired from her job; she received death threats for the rest of her life. But she also catalyzed a movement that has deeply affected our country.
So think about your life for a minute. How might God be calling you to be different by what you don’t do? By what you won’t bow down to? And by the way, refusing to wear a mask is not a good example. There is no biblical case to be made for refusing to wear a mask, and actually, the Bible teaches us to love our neighbor as ourself, and to put other people’s interests ahead of our own, and one clear way to live that out is to wear a mask.
So what might this mean for you? Well, we live in a culture that sexualizes everything: whether it’s Jennifer Lopez literally pole dancing at the Super Bowl halftime show, or the obligatory sex scenes in just about every Netflix series. If we express any objection to things like that, there will be voices who call us judgmental. But maybe that’s a place where God calls us to resist. To be different.
We live in a culture that expects us to attack and demean our political opponents. “Only a complete idiot could vote for that guy.” Maybe God is calling us to resist that by respecting and loving our opponents, even if we don’t agree with them.
We live in a culture that’s obsessed with beauty and success and carefully managing our social media image. Maybe God is calling us to resist that by posting really average-looking pictures of ourself on Facebook or Instagram. Or maybe for you, it means resisting social media altogether.
We live in a culture that expects us to constantly upgrade our lifestyle: get the biggest house you can possibly afford; drive the nicest cars you can possible afford. Maybe God is calling us to resist that by living more simply so we can be more generous and pour more of our time and energy into things that last.
We could go on and on with the examples. But if we’re following Jesus in 2020, there will be things our culture just expects us to do, where we say, “No.” As you think about your life, what things are you refusing to bow down to, because of your allegiance to God?
But sometimes God calls us to resist by what we do do. In Daniel chapter six, there’s a different king in power. And he makes a strange law: he prohibits people from praying to anyone except to him, the king. And Daniel resists that law by what he does: every day, three times a day, he gets down on his knees and he prays. So he shows his differentness by what he does do, which gets him thrown to the lions, but that’s a whole different story.
So here’s the question: how might God be calling you to resist our culture—to not be like everyone else—by what you do do?
In the late 1700s, William Wilberforce was a member of the British Parliament, and he used his position to relentlessly push for an end to slavery in Great Britain. He was criticized and mocked all along the way, and it would have been much easier just to drop it. But his faith in Christ drove him to keep standing against the crowd. Three days before his death in 1833, he got word that slavery would be abolished in England.
Just about 15 years ago, a kid from Montville named Danny Kim was part of a thriving pediatric surgery practice in Atlanta, Georgia. He had a wife and three kids and a beautiful home. But he was convinced that God was calling him to something else. So they sold all their possessions and moved to Mali, West Africa, where Dr. Kim serves at the Khoutiala Hospital for Women and Children. In a world where almost everyone bows to the idol of upward mobility, Dan and his family are standing apart by doing something very different.
Is it possible that God is calling you to something highly countercultural? Maybe to use your career, or your expertise, in a way that surprises everyone around you? What could this mean for you?
But you know what? You don’t have to make a career shift to be countercultural. Most of the time, our choice to be different comes out in much smaller ways. Many times, it just means living out our faith in an increasingly secular society. Do you realize that, more and more, it’s becoming a radical thing to go to church on Sundays? People are like, “Where are you going? Don’t you know there’s football on?” So listen: go to church on Sundays!
In a culture where everyone lives for their next vacation, shock your friends by using your vacation time to do mission work or crisis relief work. And then invite your friends to come with you next time.
In a culture where people in the suburbs—Pequannock, Lincoln Park, Montville, Kinnelon—where people in the suburbs are literally afraid to drive into Paterson, be different by serving with Star of Hope or New City Kids or the Good Shepherd Mission, like lots of Chapel people do.
See, I’d much rather be known not for all the things we don’t do—although there should be some things that we don’t do, right? But I’d much rather be known for the things we do. Wouldn’t you? When people think about The Chapel, I don’t want them to go, “Oh yeah—those are the people who don’t get drunk or curse.” I’d much rather people say, “The Chapel? Isn’t that the church that puts on that huge event every year for kids with special needs? Isn’t that the church that partnered with Rails Steakhouse and the Red Barn to deliver hundreds of meals to needy families during the pandemic? Back when we had all those floods, aren’t those the guys who kept sending teams out to wade into people’s basements to help them recover from the flood damage?”
In a culture where it’s so easy to bow down to the idols of convenience and self-indulgence and entertainment, we have an opportunity to be different—sometimes by the things we don’t do, but much more excitingly, also by the beautiful things we do.
Now: Stanley Milgram, the psychologist, said very few people have the resources to be different. So where do those resources come from? Where did those three Hebrew men find the resources to resist? Look at verse 16: 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
This tells us so much about the relationship these three guys had with God. “The God we serve is able to deliver us…but even if he doesn’t…we will not serve your gods.” Maybe you read that and you think they’re doubting God—like maybe he’ll come through and maybe he won’t. But that’s not it at all. Here’s what they’re saying: “Our faith does not depend on whether God blesses us in the way we think he should. We don’t serve God only when things go well. We serve God because of who he is. Believe me: God is capable of rescuing us. He’s done much bigger things than that! But even if he doesn’t we will serve him, because we love him.”
Last year there was a Christian hip-hop artist named Toby Mac who lost his 21-year-old son, Truett. We don’t know the details of how he died, but the family was obviously devastated. How do you possibly process a loss like that? A few days after his death, Toby and his wife, Amanda, put out this statement to the media: “My wife and I would want the world to know this: We don’t follow God because we have some sort of under-the-table deal with Him, like, we’ll follow you if you bless us. We follow God because we love Him. It’s our honor. He is the God of the hills and the valleys. And He is beautiful above all things.” Three days after Truett’s death, they started a foundation to help kids who struggle with the same things their son struggled with.
So back to Dr. Milgram’s statement—he said very few people have the resources to be different. Where do you find those resources? It comes from a relationship with God. From knowing him and loving him and prizing him above all things in life. When our love for God, and our desire to please him speak louder than our desire to please the people around us, we will have the inner resources—the quiet strength—to be different. It all comes from our relationship with God. And in the last scene of Daniel chapter three, we learn something amazing about that relationship.
Let’s talk about Deliverance. Continue in verse 19: 19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace.
Skip down to verse 24: 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”
25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.
28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.
So…what happened? And the biggest question: who was that fourth person in the furnace? The king assumed it was an angel, and that was a pretty good guess. But I am convinced—along with a lot of biblical scholars—that this was more than an angel. This was the Son of God himself. And this is such a fascinating thing—throughout the Old Testament, you see several appearances of “The Angel of the Lord.” Not just “an angel,” but “The Angel of the Lord”…who receives worship, which is something only God does. Who speaks directly for God—he doesn’t say, “Thus sayeth the Lord”; he just speaks as the Lord. We don’t have time to look at those places, but it happens multiple times through the Hebrew Scriptures. See, everybody knows Jesus made his official entrance into the world in Bethlehem. But he also made some brief, earlier appearances, and this is one of those times. Isn’t that an amazing thought? I’m convinced it was Jesus in that furnace.
So think about this: when you decide to resist the pressure, and you get thrown into the fires of life, Jesus will be there with you. Did you notice, he didn’t stop them from going into the fire! But he walked in the fire with them. And he’ll walk with us. Think about it: he already faced the ultimate furnace for us! The Bible says God’s judgment is like a fire, and when Jesus hung on the cross, he faced the fire of God’s judgment in our place. He took the ultimate furnace for us! And now he walks through all the other fires with us. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because…what? You are with me. Right there in the furnace. Man, some of you need to know that today.
Look—if you play it safe—if you always go along with the crowd—this message doesn’t really apply to you. You won’t have many furnaces to face. But if your love for God moves you to live different, by what you don’t do and by what you do, there will be times when the heat will get turned up. And it will feel like a furnace. And when that happens you need to know that Jesus walks with you, and he’ll never leave you.
We’re living in a world where there’s tremendous pressure to fit in. What does it mean to follow Jesus in a culture of conformity? As an exile in Babylon, Daniel shows us that different is good. He demonstrates not only how to resist the influence of culture, but how to be an influencer of culture, bringing grace and truth to the relationships and communities where God has placed us.