Beth Moore - Surrounded by Lions - Part 1
So we had hoped to be here at Woodlands United Methodist. This is such a strong church in our area and we're so fond of it and it has such a wonderful reputation for loving Christ in our city. And we had hoped to be here with a group but here we are in this particular setting, in this time of strange social distancing, and one of the things that I'm hoping for, one of the things that God is doing in my life and in friends that I get to do life with at work and in some of the family members as we go back and forth in ways that the Lord is showing his faithfulness to us, just these small things, these small ways, these very personal ways of just somehow reminding us that he is with us. We have his Word. We know he is with us. We have his Spirit, but when he does something that is just so kind and so gracious, just a reminder that he is so attentive to our strange estate in these days. Not only is this a time of social distancing but it's a very big time of transition in my own family life.
Just recently, our beloved Jones, that's my oldest daughter and her husband and my three grandchildren, moved from Houston, Texas, and just about 20 minutes from me where we had done a whole lot of life together and where I'd had the joy of seeing those children grow up on a continual basis, that sweet family moved by call of God to Springfield, Missouri. And that is where they are now planted for the time being and, you know, I have laughed and laughed and said it's a really good thing. I love Curt's parents because that's where they moved to be close to his parents because it's their turn to have the grandchildren. I've had 'em all this time. They're 14, 11, and 4, and it's their turn to have 'em, but oh my word, I can't begin to tell you what the pure vacuum has been like, that their presence has left behind, that feeling, that waiting for them to walk through the door, the bicycles in the garage, their heights on the doorposts of my utility room, all the things that just speak to their presence constantly in our home.
And so, a couple of weeks ago God did the strangest thing. If you know much about me on, say, Instagram where there are pictures and videos and that kind of thing, you might know that I have a next-door donkey and my next-door donkey is a very good friend of mine. And we've lived in our house out in the country for about eight years and so that donkey has been on the other side of that fence for almost all eight of those years. And there is a certain place where we meet up and we have the sweetest time together. It's just been a gift. It's not my donkey. It's always on the other side of the fence, but she sticks her nose right through that fence and I kiss her every single time I see her. And we just have the sweetest time together.
But a couple of weeks ago when they'd just moved, the Jones have just moved very recently, and so just here a couple of weeks ago while it was still a very raw kind of absence where there were still a lot of tears and you need to hear me say that I could not be more supportive of the decision they've made. It's not that. It's just missing them so badly. So I was still in that stage of a good bit of tears and I had gone up on a Saturday morning to do a little trimming on my vines. I've got a tiny little vineyard. I am growing some vines and I got so involved in John chapter 15, in the vine and the branches, that I just had to put my hands to it and see what it was like, so I was doing a little bit of pruning on those and it's right there at the fence where Donk is. So that's what I call my next-door donkey. She really does have an official name but her nickname to me is just plain Donk.
So she came over like she normally would and stood there at the fence and visited with me. Not with her mouth open with words, but I just have asked the Lord for that many times and I still am not leaving that out of the possibilities. But the strange thing that happened that day was that two others joined her. Two cows joined her that day and I've always seen the cows in the pasture, but they've never come to the fence before until that day. And I brought 'em a picture, I brought you a picture, rather, so that you could see them. You'll see in the picture, that's Donk in the back, obviously, and then what you're seeing right there, the one closest, the one with the bigger head, that's Number 9 and the other one is Number 13.
Now, I'm not exactly sure what those numbers mean but I'm going with it. I'm going with it. It's 9 and 13 and those three stood right there the entire time that I pruned those vines. To the point that Number 9 just laid down right by the fence, about 3 feet from me, just lay there. The three of 'em stayed at that fence the entire time and I knew, oddly, 'cause I'd been there so many times and that's never happened before, I knew that, oddly, God had sent those little visitors to me and they were quite a bit of company and they did make me laugh quite a lot. But I did have to say to the Lord, "This is not quite the trade I would have had in mind: three grandchildren and a donkey and two cows. Not quite what I had in mind. But I'll take it for today". And I don't know, you know, it's a dangerous thing to get attached to a cow, especially when you eat in an area where it's very known for Farm to Table, you know, I don't want to be eating Number 9 in a month.
Does anybody know what I'm talking about? Eating Number 9 on a bun with lettuce and tomato and pickles. I don't wanna do that. So I have trepidation about losing Number 9 but this is life in social distancing and we have to watch for the small ways that God is gonna remind us, I really am with you, I really do know this is hard, this is a time of testing for the saints. It's a time of testing for the world. And so you've got to persevere. You've got to endure. I FaceTimed with my youngest granddaughter just yesterday. Her precious face all over that screen and her name is Willow, and Willow had to ask me how her toys were doing. And I had to get very specific about how her toys were doing at my house.
But here's one of the things I'd like to say to you. I don't think our toys are doing all that well right now. Not really coming through for us, are they? It's just Jesus, just all comes down to Jesus. It's just gonna be Jesus that gets us through because we don't know how long and what this looks like but we do know who is enthroned and who is in charge and I want you to turn with me to Daniel chapter 6. Daniel chapter 6. Now, I don't know your background. I don't know if you were raised in church or not and, even if you were, if you are a lot younger than I am, it still would have looked perhaps a whole lot different than it did when I was a little kid growing up.
Now, when I was a little kid growing up, we went like a minimum of three times a week to church. We went on the Sunday mornings, had an entirely different service Sunday night, different sermon, everything. Different songs from the hymnal, everything. Then another service on Wednesday and that happened, that was prayer meeting that happened after we'd go to choir, handbell practice, whatever it would be. Our whole lives were lived there. And so I don't have any memories before sitting in Baby Bear chairs with our Sunday School teacher. I mean, tiny little chairs where we were given orange Hi-C in a Dixie Cup and little sugar cookies, the little butter cookies that had the holes in 'em, and we'd always put 'em on our fingers. Anybody remember that with me? And then you'd eat around it like this and see if you could keep it from breaking off.
This was Sunday School in my childhood, and we would see pictures, these watercolor pictures. Every single Sunday School on the planet had the same pictures if they were ordering them from the same Sunday School supply, the same watercolor pictures of Daniel in the lion's den. And in those days, as a kid, you could think of it in terms of a cartoon. You could think of it in terms of a storybook, because it was gonna turn out so well or surely they would not be telling it to the children at church. But when you're a grown woman and when you're a grown man, suddenly you're old enough to smell the lion manure and everything changes.
Now, chapter 6 is right at the halfway point of the book of Daniel. Daniel is 12 chapters long so you get to the end of chapter 6 and you are exactly at the halfway point in the book of Daniel. But not only does it split it right in two, but it also is a major division because the book of Daniel is going to go from the historical to the apocalyptic, and so we've got the historic, we've got the apocalyptic and by apocalyptic, when I use that word, what I mean is not only the prophetic, that where there is a difference between the two words, the difference is that when prophecy was given in the Word of God, it was given in words, "Thus saith the Lord," and "The Lord said," and there'll be "The declaration of the Lord," "Prophecy given by the Lord," but when it comes into a revealing of what we would call apocalyptic, that is going to ordinarily involve dreams or a vision or some kind of ecstatic experience, some kind of imagery, and that's exactly what's going to pick up, starting in Daniel chapter 7.
So this is the last of the historic, of the chapters of Daniel heading into the apocalyptic. So stick with me here and I wanna give you a little bit of background and then I'm gonna read to you. Now pick up because we're a little bit later now when I'm gonna begin reading. That would have been the timing of Daniel chapter 1, right after the deportation, so that's right around 597 BC. Now we're moving into about 539 to 537 BC and we pick up with Daniel 6. I'm gonna read verses 1 through 18:
"Darius decided to appoint 120 satraps over the kingdom, stationed throughout the realm, and over them 3 administrators, including Daniel. These satraps would be accountable to them so that the king would not be defrauded. Daniel distinguished himself above the administrators and satraps because he had an extraordinary spirit, so the king planned to set him over the whole realm. The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him. Then these men said, 'Well, we'll never find any charge against this Daniel unless we find something against him concerning the law of his God.' So the administrators and satraps went together to the king and said to him, 'May King Darius live forever. All the administrators of the kingdom (the prefects, satraps, advisers, and governors) have agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an edict that, for 30 days, anyone who petitions any god or man except you, the king, will be thrown into the lions' den.'"
Verse 8: "'Therefore, Your Majesty, establish the edict and sign the document so that, as a law of the Medes and Persians, it is irrevocable and cannot be changed.' So King Darius signed the written edict". Verse 10: "When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to God, just as he had done before. Then these men went as a group and found Daniel petitioning and imploring his God. So they approached the king and asked about his edict: 'Didn't you sign an edict that for 30 days any person who petitions any god or man except you, the king, will be thrown into the lions' den?' The king answered, 'As a law of the Medes and Persians, the order stands and is irrevocable.'"
Verse 13: "Then they replied to the king, 'Daniel, one of the Judean exiles, has ignored you, the king, and the edict you signed, for he prays three times a day.' And as soon as the king heard this, he was very displeased; and he set his mind on rescuing Daniel and made every effort until sundown to deliver him. Then these men went together to the king and said to him, 'You know, Your Majesty, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no edict or ordinance that the king established can be changed.'" Verse 16: "So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions' den. And the king said to Daniel, 'May your God, whom you continually serve, rescue you!' A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den. The king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing in regard to Daniel could be changed. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting. No diversions were brought to him, and he could not sleep".
So we have Daniel's persecutors who are looking for his vulnerability. Don't you think it is a wild, wild notion that when they went for how they could trap him, the only way they could find a vulnerability in him was to do something that would go against the law of his God because they knew that is where he would fail the king, so that's exactly how they set him up, that he would not obey man when it came into direct and flagrant opposition to his obedience to God. That's how they had to make the plan stick. Now, the next thing they had to do is they had to convince Darius that it was a good idea. Well, how do you convince someone in a high seat of power that something is a great idea? You bet on their ego, that's how. And you make the edict about them. That is a very successful way to get someone in power to do what you want them to do, make a bet on their very big ego.
I want you to look with me at the matter of prayer because obviously you can see what a place it has in the narrative of Daniel chapter 6 because this is where they get him. They know he's going to pray. Wouldn't it be something... who knows around your life that you're going to pray? Wouldn't it be something if one of the things that people knew most about you is that no one can stop you from praying? What kind of life does it look like when no one can stop you from praying? And I don't think we can assume that means that those are the people doing all the getting, although Jesus was explicit when he said, "I want you to seek and find. I want you to ask and receive. I want you to knock and the door will be opened to you".
But I'm a believer to my bones that the biggest aspect of prayer is about access to God and not about answers from God. But what would it be like if people knew there was no way to stop us from praying? Daniel is a man of resolve. We realize that. I think it's in the NIV wording in Daniel chapter 1 as it says that Daniel resolved not to eat the food of the king and not to drink the wine of the king. He knew that they needed to be separate from it because what had happened there in the deportation many, many years before, when he was taken in that first deportation with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, these four youths, when they were taken, they were taken with the group that would have been the young, they would have been the bright, the beautiful, and the brilliant because the poor and the insignificant.
Many of those were left there in and around Jerusalem so that they could farm the land, so that they could bring produce into the Babylonian empire, so that they could keep it in some kind of productive manner so that they could have the crops of the land. But now the bright, the young, and the beautiful and the brilliant, they were taken in that deportation, and they were taken for one primary purpose. And that was for the Babylonians to indoctrinate them in the ways of Babylon.
Now, if you're not gonna get taken in to the ways of Babylon, you have to have resolve not to do it. And we're told that Daniel had resolve. He had resolve not to. Now, I try to think, then how might we define resolve? I think that resolve means a decision that is made in advance, that you've already answered it, that you don't make that decision, I don't make that particular decision at the moment of decision. That decision was already made. That's resolved. I already know in advance I'm not going to do it. The answer is no. The answer is no. There are so many things, so many temptations, that come to us that are in the heat of that moment and as we cry out to God and he says he's promised to always give us a way of escape, but resolve is when we go, "There are certain things, I've just already made my mind up in advance".
And Daniel had made his mind up in advance about a number of things. And one of 'em was prayer, that absolutely no one... I ask you today, I ask you today, who is it in your life that can keep you from praying? Who is such a distraction to you that they can keep you from praying? Who gets you out of your prayer groove? Who is it that can throw off all of that and get you out of focus? They were hoping it would be them for Daniel that would show that he would not be obedient to the edict.
Now, something that's interesting here is, of course, several chapters earlier in Daniel chapter 3, we see the other three, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they have also been tested and tried because King Nebuchadnezzar, the king at that time, at the time that we open in Daniel chapter 6, the Persians have taken over. Daniel is in the same city. He's still in Babylon, he's still in the same place but it's a different empire entirely.
The Babylonian empire has been overtaken now by Cyrus of Persia and now Darius is in rule and is in charge, and so we're now years later and we're in this particular timeframe. But in that time, when they had first come, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had refused to bow down to the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar, king of the empire of Babylon, had built for himself. And so in public when everyone bowed, they remained standing. Very, very public opposition to an edict to praise anybody but God. But here, Daniel shows it in private. And I thought how important both of those are and how all of us can expect to be tested in both ways: in how we're willing to stand when others bow to the idols of this world, publicly, and then for the testing of our mettle privately.
I was so intrigued by an excerpt out of one of the commentaries I studied for tonight's lesson. This is Dr. G.E. Goldingay out of "Word Biblical" on Daniel and he says this: "When prayer is fashionable, it is time to pray in secret". And he draws that from Matthew 6:5-6 when it says: "Go into your closet and pray. Don't let your prayers be known for their many words". "But when prayer is under pressure, to pray in secret is to give the appearance of fearing the king more than God". Then Dr. Goldingay goes on to quote another scholar by the name of Dr. Walter Wink out of his book, "Naming the Powers": "In fact, Daniel's 'seemingly innocuous act,'" stay with me here, "was 'more revolutionary than outright rebellion would have been. Rebellion simply acknowledges the absoluteness and ultimacy of the emperor's power, and attempts to seize it. Prayer denies that ultimacy altogether by acknowledging the higher power.'"
I wanna say that again. He said, "Rebellion is simply saying, Yes, that is the supreme commander and we are going to try to seize that power.'" But what the commentator is pointing out is this is much more revolutionary than that. This is saying, "You have no power over me at all. You have no power to command me not to pray. You're completely stripped of all authority when it comes to what my God has commanded of me and what you insist upon for me".