When God gave the Ten Commandments to those people just out of bondage in Egypt, He was telling free people what they must do to remain free.
He was telling them there were many forms of bondage other than slavery in Egypt, and we all know that.
The Word of God tells us other truths also.
One is that while the Ten Commandments tell us what we must do to keep free, none of us have the inclination or strength to keep those commandments ...
And God knew that, too.
The Bible says those commandments are school teachers.
They show us the truth of what God’s Word says when it says,
"...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." (Rom. 3:23).
So Jesus Christ came.
He kept those commandments and lived a perfect life.
He died for you and me, and He is our hope.
He is the only one who can give us the life we need, and that’s constantly and consistently the message of God’s Holy Word.
We start out in life wanting and dreaming about so much.
We have dreams of a good life and achievements.
We have dreams of making something of ourselves, living life with integrity, and working hard.
Then something happens.
It seems in this world there is some evil, dream-busting ambition-shattering, life-killing force that takes all our dreams from us and leaves us empty in meaninglessness.
What is the answer to that?
How does that happen, and what can we do about it?
I think some of the answers are found in Daniel 1 where the Word speaks about a war and young people caught up in that war, about attempts to make them different than they were, and about how they kept the dream and the glory and became great people.
They would settle for no less.
That Was Then
It begins with war.
King Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the great Babylonian Empire, decided it was time to take control of little Judah.
So he attacked Judah and captured Jerusalem and King Jehoiakim, ending his reign of three years.
Now King Nebuchadnezzar was a very bright and sharp man.
For more than forty years, he was one of the most powerful kings in all of history, and he knew something.
He knew he had to have force to get what he wanted, but he could not keep what he wanted with force alone.
He knew he had to have an army, and his army was large and well-trained and well-equipped.
They knew how to do what armies do.
They knew how to win battles and scare people.
So they won the battle and took Judah, and they kept the people so terrified that they weren’t able to resist.
However, King Nebuchadnezzar knew people, especially God’s people, are not going to stay scared too long.
He knew strong hearts and spirits will overcome any army in the long run, so he knew he had to do something else if he was to keep control of Judah.
"What do I do to keep this people under my control?"
The idea came, and he called Ashpenaz, his number one guy, and he said,
"Ash, I want you to find the best young people in that nation.
Let’s bring them to Babylon and change the people of God into Babylonians.
Let’s change these people who think they know the power and presence of God in their lives.
Let’s reduce them to Babylonian citizens.
Bring them to Babylon, and let’s begin the process of changing the leaders of the next generation."
Well, four people in those young people were named Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
Daniel is a word that meant "God is my judge."
Hananiah is a word that means "God is mercy."
Mishael is a name that means "God is my help."
And Azariah is a name that means "God is my strength."
These four young men, among many others, were brought to Babylon.
What an impressive place Babylon was ... The capital of the Babylonian Empire, right on the Euphrates River.
It had a beautiful skyline, much more impressive than even San Francisco, yet with many similarities.
It’s forty-nine miles around the city of San Francisco.
It was forty miles around Babylon, and that forty miles was surrounded by a sixty to seventy-foot wall that was thirty-feet wide, completely protecting that beautiful Babylonian city.
The skyline included the restored Tower of Babel and the beautiful kings palace, more luxurious than you could ever imagine.
Also, you could see the Tower of Ziggurat dominating all of it.
It was two hundred feet by two hundred feet at the base.
It reached higher into the sky than the Washington Monument.
There was a giant recreational reservoir in Babylon for the people’s pleasure and joy.
There were the famous Babylonian gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
There was a bridge over the Euphrates River that to this day baffles the engineering experts as to how that bridge could work and how it was built.
They were brought to see all that.
They were supposed to overwhelmed by all of that, and when they got there, they found themselves part of a plot.
This was how you changed God’s people into Babylonians.
First of all, you remove them from what makes them strong.
Take them away from worship of Holy God.
Take them away from the parents and families that had made them strong.
Get them away from that.
The second step was you make them forget who they are.
Daniel, "God is my judge," was given a new name ... Belteshazzar, which means "worship the treasure."
Hananiah, "God is my help," was given a new name ... Shadrach which means "worship the son."
Mishael, "God is my strength," was given a new name
Meshach which means "worship the power."
Azariah, "God is mercy," was given a new name ...
Abed-nego which means "Son of the burning fire."
Isn’t it interesting that just a chapter later Azariah, Mishael, and Hananiah were put in the fire, and one of them was named "servant of the burning fire," and the fire didn’t hurt him at all because he never forgot that "God is my strength"?
The plot was to get them to forget who they were, simply bring them to say,
"No longer do we talk about God is my judge.
Now, it’s worship the treasure.
No longer do we talk about God is my help.
Now, it’s worship the son.
No longer do we talk about God is my strength.
Now, it’s worship the pleasure.
None of this talking about those former things."
They would give them a different lifestyle.
Take them away from the readings of the Word of God.
Give them the sensuous and secular Babylonian literature.
Let them learn to live a different life where they’re greedy, grasping, selfish, lustful, and sensuous and forget these things about God is my judge, strength, help and mercy.
That’s how you change people of God into Babylonians.
This Is Now
Do you have an idea, by now, that maybe there’s an enemy who has said,
"I want to change this nation.
I want to change the people of America from who they were to make them something else.
I want to remove them from what has made them strong."
Back before World War I,
When America’s Industrial Revolution was beginning, when this land was prospering like never before,
A French secular economist was sent to the United States to study what makes America prosper.
He was to bring back the secret of why we were doing so much better than the rest of the world.
When he went back home, part of his report said this:
America is a strong nation because America is a
Worshipping nation. So long as America is a
Worshipping nation, she will be strong. But
When America stops being a worshipping nation,
America will no longer be strong.
A secular economist, one of the best in the world, said that, because it’s always people that make things happen.
If you don’t have the right people, then nothing’s going to happen right.
Of course, that was back when Sunday was called the "Holy Sabbath" by our fathers.
Our forefathers had this idea that you balance life, that you have a balance of work and worship and play.
We worship our work,
We work at our play,
And we play at our worship.
Take them away from what makes them strong.
Change their lifestyle."
Do you think America’s lifestyle has been changed?
In my lifetime, this nation’s lifestyle has been drastically changed.
Thirty years ago, a baby born outside of wedlock was officially called an illegitimate baby.
Thirty years ago, any couple involved in sexual intercourse who were not man and wife married to each other were considered immoral and unacceptable in most societies.
Thirty years ago, homosexuality was not only an unacceptable lifestyle but was illegal.
Thirty years ago, abortion was illegal.
The tobacco and alcohol industries have done a number on the American people.
Do you know that last year alcohol cost this society 135 billion dollars?
Do you know that 100,000 people in America lost their lives last year because of alcohol?
Do you know that we spend twenty billion dollars in America last year just paying the healthcare costs for tobacco and in this land, 450,000 people died because of tobacco in our country?
That’s three times the population of Irving, Texas wiped out in one year by a drastic change in our lifestyle.
There was a time in this city when it was illegal to sell alcohol in any establishment.
I think part of it was knowing that the leaders and the majority of the good people in this city said,
"Right is more important than revenue.
We will not judge a thing by how much money it brings in but by what it does to people."
The lifestyles have been changed in America.
"Get them to forget who they are."
Do you think that has happened?
I have no scientific credentials.
My only argument with the many theories that are taught, especially the theories that leave anything out to do with God, are simply what they do to people.
When the theories about the origin of the universe and life are talked about to be meaningless and accidental, then they bring us to think we are meaningless and accidental, that we have no purpose or power in life, that life to us is nothing more than life is to a dog wandering down an alley and eating whatever garbage becomes available.
That’s what I have a problem with.
It takes the greatness out of a population.
It takes the sense of who we are, what we’re about, and how fantastically we are made.
Several years ago, I read a book written by Aldous Huxley.
He’s from a very elite, scientific family.
He wrote Brave New World.
He died in 1963, and he had a great influence on education in our country.
Aldous Huxley is the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley who was the first scientist to take Charles Darwin’s theory further.
"I don’t know about evolution between species.
I only know about evolution within species."
But Huxley took the idea that evolution was scientific theory, too.
He promoted that, and he was the grandfather of Aldous Huxley.
Listen to this quote out of Huxley’s book:
For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation desired was liberation from certain systems of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The purporters of this system claimed it embodied the Christian meaning of the world. There was on admirably simply method of confuting those people, and at the same time, justifying ourselves and our erotic revolt. We could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever. Similar tactics have been adopted during the eighteenth century and for the same reason.
So much for the age of enlightenment.
This man said,
"I looked for the kind of truth that would support the
Way I wanted to live.
I looked for a way not to be responsible to God or anybody else, and that’s how I sought truth.
That’s where my science came from."
He was motivated not by a search for truth but simply by a fulfilling of the desires of his glands.
I’m afraid that’s behind the reason we’re told the world is meaningless, that’s it’s just chance.
We ask, as we look at this intricate universe with a hundred sextillion stars,
"How did this happen, and how did it become so precisely engineered?"
And they say,
"Chance did it."
We look at this wonderfully made human body with all its intricacies, and we ask,
"How did all this get here?"
And they said,
"Chance did it."
What did chance ever create?
How can chance create anything?
Chance has no power.
Chance is nothing more than a way to calculate.
Creation moves from personal to impersonal.
Can the sculpture create a sculptor?
Can the house create a carpenter?
How have we been brought to believe this?
Is it because we want to believe that life has no meaning, and we’re not responsible?
"Let them forget who they are."
God’s Word clearly says you are made in the image of God.
Your heartbeat here is an echo of His heart beating there.
You’re going to live forever in eternity.
You’re not a dog in an alley.
You are a being made in the image of God.
"Make them forget that, and they miss the greatness."
What Can We Do?
What do we do?
Well, it important that we do what Daniel and the others did to not let anybody take away from what makes them strong, to not let anyone change their lifestyle to become destructive, to not let anyone make them forget who they were and what they were about.
But what do we do?
How do we function as God’s people in a world like this?
I want to remind you Daniel 1 tells us these four young people were completely contrary to the society they were in, yet they were recognized by that society as being the greatest young men in the land.
How do you function in a world like this when you won’t settle for less than great?
That’s the beginning of it.
You won’t settle for less than great.
You remember who you are.
You don’t compromise on the truth.
Verse 8 tells us Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself.
That’s where it all starts.
It begins inside of you.
Life’s biggest battles are fought inside of us.
He purposed in his heart,
"I will not be defiled."
He had a personality that worked.
It’s amazing how often the Word of God speaks to us about attitude.
Here, these four young men were in a contrary world, but they were not contrary.
They were polite and kind.
They didn’t give into anything that was wrong, yet they were not aggressive.
They were not angry or militant.
They were not critical.
They had a good attitude.
All the way through the Old Testament, it talks about David and why he was so favored.
He had a comely spirit.
That’s the King James Version for a good attitude.
We find all through God’s Word that these people were accepted and used because they had the right kind of attitude.
They had a great advantage.
When you remember who you are, when you won’t let them press another lifestyle upon you and you keep your walk with God, you have a great advantage.
In verse 17, it says,
"And as for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom."
In verse 20, it goes on,
"And as for the matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better..."
They had the edge.
They had the advantage.
They had the power.
You can live in this world and never settle for less than great because of the great God who is in you.
You honor God, and He will honor you.
You make it the first business of your life to honor Christ, and you will have the power of God’s Spirit living in you and empowering you.
Norman Locklear is a syndicated, secular columnist.
A few years ago, he was asked to be on a committee to choose the best young people in our high schools ... The ones who were scholastically brilliant, the ones who were great leaders, the best and brightest among all of America’s high school students.
They took some time in that process, and they selected these outstanding young people.
Norman Locklear was so impressed with these young people, and he said,
"There’s got to be a common denominator.
There’s got to be one thing that binds them all together."
It wasn’t wealth because they were from the richest and the poorest of families all across the economic barometer.
It wasn’t region.
They were from states all over the nation.
It wasn’t race.
All the races in America were represented.
It wasn’t private schools versus public schools.
They were from both private and public schools.
"What is the common denominator?"
Let me read exactly what he wrote:
The common thread connecting these exceptional young people was church involvement. I checked with a couple of high school counselors. Was this a coincidence, some peculiarity that applied to this particular selection process? Not at all, they said, There is, indeed, a very high correlation between extraordinary achievement patterns among high school students and their participation in church activities. One counselor said, "Oh, it’s very simple. These are the kids who have been taught higher values outside school. Not the least among them are the values of responsibility and leadership, and it’s a very short step for them to apply these to scholastic achievement. These kids just tend to pull away from the pack."
Isn’t that interesting.
Six thousand years ago, they sought out the best and the brightest people, and the ones who were the best and the brightest among them were the ones who would not be removed from what made them powerful.
They worshipped God.
They would not adopt the destructive lifestyles of the world around them.
They would not forget who they were ... People stamped with God’s image.
Now just a few years ago, America set out to choose the best and the brightest among us, and the ones they found were the same kind of people.
They understand they get their power from God.
They don’t want to live a lifestyle in which they are shackled or enslaved by anything.
They really want to be free.
And they will not forget who they are ... People who have a purpose, who say,
"Life does have meaning. Life is not meaningless. There is purpose to my life because God made me.
Therefore, I will live life as befits a child of God.
I will purpose in my heart to settle for no less than great."