Surviving the Crisis, Thriving Post-Crisis

Text: Daniel 6:1-28

“He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” ­—Daniel 6:27

A woman in Jacksonville, Florida had not seen her husband in 114 days after a state order barred visitors to nursing homes due to the coronavirus pandemic. That is, until she landed a job as a “dishwasher” at the nursing home where her husband resides. This woman’s love, it seems, couldn’t be denied! Even a pandemic couldn’t keep her away.

Morgan Freeman is noted as saying, “In the harshest place on Earth… love finds a way.” No matter what dire situation we might find ourselves in, we are never out of God’s reach. Scripture assures us that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing.

One thing we have seen consistently in our devotional series through the book of Daniel is that no matter how bleak the trials look, God always shows up. When the Jewish people are taken into captivity and exiled to a godless Babylonian empire, they are never out of God’s reach—even though it was their own sin that led to this fate. In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are cast into a fiery furnace for refusing to conform to cultural idolatry. Yet even in the fire, God shows up as the fourth man walking alongside of them, just as He had promised to do long before the fall of Israel (Isaiah 43:2).

In Daniel 3, we saw these Hebrew teenagers standing while everyone else was kneeling. As we come to Daniel 6, we see one man kneeling while everyone else was standing. Why the inversion? Because Daniel is praying three times a day to his God, while his opponents and political opportunists seek out means to harm him. They despise Daniel and the God he worships. So they devise a sinister plan to bring him down. Yet it is in this context that we see the integrity of a godly man, and the power and preservation of our sovereign Lord.

Daniel’s enemies examined his life and found nothing to attack (Daniel 6:4-5), so they had to make something up to trap him. Their plan involved petitioning Darius, the king, by appealing to his pride and his desire for a unified kingdom. So they outlawed prayer in a piece of legislation that was aimed at flattering the king, saying, “whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.”

Daniel didn’t compromise. He didn’t stop praying. He didn’t stop worshiping. Even after the law was passed, “He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” The king had no choice but to throw Daniel to the lions. But the Lord showed up in that lions’ den and shut the mouths of the lions. Daniel was rescued alive. And get this: Daniel didn’t just survive the crisis; he “prospered” post-crisis! What should have mauled Daniel instead ended up leading to his prosperity and exalted God’s glory over the entire kingdom. Darius even made a new decree that all the people in his royal dominion were to worship the God of Daniel, attributing that He is indeed the “living God.”

Consider this beloved: Things that were meant to harm you will end up favoring you (Genesis 50:20). Things the enemy intended to kill you will end up prospering you (John 10:10). As followers of Christ Jesus, we don’t just survive a crisis; we thrive post-crisis. All this because nothing can separate us from the God Who loves us. Not pandemic. Not death. Not things present, nor things to come. Not financial hardship. Not persecution. Not sickness. Not aloneness. The God that rescued Daniel from that lions’ den is the same God who bankrupted heaven by sending His Son into this world, to die a criminal’s death in your place for your sins to be atoned. If He disrupted heaven and earth in such a fashion to save you, how much more will He do to thrive you (Romans 8:32)? Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you for the promise of your word, that nothing can separate us from your love. For you have promised: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” You always show up. We are never left to ourselves, even when we are the makers of our own demise. We worship YOU, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. Under what conditions would you consider stepping into a lion’s cage? What would you do if your right to pray in any public setting was legally taken away?
  2. Why did Daniel’s colleagues plot against him (Daniel 6:3-4)? How did Daniel respond to the king’s decree (Daniel 6:9-10)? When have you chosen to submit to God’s authority over you rather than obeying the laws of the land?
  3. What happened to Daniel’s accusers and their families (Daniel 6:24)? When has God honored you for your integrity or faithfulness?
  4. What was the king’s pronouncement (Daniel 6:25-28)? What qualities in Daniel do you most admire?
  5. What steps can you take to trust God to resolve whatever difficult circumstances you face? What can you do to become a stronger, more courageous follower of Christ?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

A Titanic Lesson and The Writing on the Wall

Text: Daniel 5:1-31

“Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.” —Proverbs 29:1

On April 14, before that fateful sinking in the Atlantic Ocean, Titanic’s Captain Smith reportedly ignored seven iceberg warnings from his crew and other ships. Many have speculated that this grave negligence was steeped in the belief that Titanic was theoretically unsinkable, in part, due to the fact that the ship had sixteen watertight compartments. We all know how that ended.

Proverbs 29:1 warns: “Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.” In the Bible, the stiff neck is used as a figure of speech to speak of the stubborn attitude that resists and disobeys God.

In Daniel 5, we are introduced to such a stiff-necked person. King Belshazzar, the new Babylonian ruler, gathers together a bunch of revelers for a lavish idolatrous feast. They partied like it was 1999—sacrilegiously drinking wine from the same vessels of gold and silver that Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from the temple in Jerusalem. In an open mock and snobbery of the one true God, they offered their worship to “the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.” What happens next feels like something right out of a Stephen King movie.

A magical, mysterious human hand suddenly appears and begins writing something on the wall. When Belshazzar sees the proverbial “writing on the wall,” he quickly turns pale, his limbs grow weak, and his knees tremble. The fact that he freaks out even before the interpretation is given to him shows that Belshazzar’s conscience was active beneath all of his licentious partying. He knew he had blasphemed the Almighty. Anxiously, the king calls upon the diviners of his kingdom to interpret the writing on the wall, but they could not decode the message.

That’s when the queen reminded Belshazzar of Daniel—“There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”

God knows how to bring pagan leaders to their knees. He knows how to bring the arrogant low and make them so desperate that they call upon the disciples of God, because these worshipers are the only ones who can rightly interpret the times and “solve problems.” Daniel was such a man in whom was found this “light and understanding and excellent wisdom” (Daniel 5:14). He was brought in to show the interpretation and promised a lavish reward.

But Daniel isn’t there to win the king’s approval, or promotion. He isn’t there to tell him what he wants to hear or pander for popularity. He sees himself as nothing more than an ambassador of Truth, a messenger of God. It reminds me of the old wise man who once told me, “Always preach to an audience of One; never preach for a return invitation.” Daniel tells the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless, I will read the writing… and make known the interpretation.” The most effective servants of Christ do heaven’s work without regard for earthly reward. God’s approval alone is enough for them. They speak truth without fear of what it may cost them.

Daniel brings a hard message for the king to hear. He reminded Belshazzar of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride, how God humbled him “animal planet style” until he confessed the power of God (see last week’s devotion). Belshazzar knew of Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling, but failed to learn from his mistakes (Daniel 5:23). He stiffened his neck and opposed God’s discipline. Consequently, the writing on the wall means that God’s judgment is imminent for this blasphemous king. The Grim Reaper was already at the door. Belshazzar’s kingdom was brought to a sudden end as he was unexpectedly killed that very night.

It’s been said that a mighty army and brilliant tactics overcame the Babylonian Empire, yet it still fell from within. The armies of the Medes and Persians could only conquer Babylon because Belshazzar and his kingdom were found lacking in spiritual and moral values. All the water in the world could never sink a ship unless it got inside. Rejecting God after being warned is like the Titanic charging full speed through a minefield of icebergs because she presumes she is unsinkable.

Consider: the dramatically swift and abrupt change in the scene of this chapter. In one moment they are partying with not a care in the world, and in the next moment judgment is at the door. This Old Testament passage connects with Christ’s New Testament warnings in Matthew 24:36-44. We need to remember that God disciplines those whom He loves. He confronts our pride and presumption. Scripture is His tool for correction, reproof, and rebuke, intended to stop us from continuing down a negligent and destructive path. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, teach us to receive your rebuke and correction in humility. Let us not be among those in the book of Proverbs who despise reproof and find themselves to be fools careening toward demise. Holy Spirit, help us to embrace your instruction and guidance to keep our lamps burning in an age of darkness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What kinds of puzzles or riddles do you like to solve? Do you typically learn from others’ life experiences or mostly from your own experiences?
  2. What was the scene like in the beginning of Daniel 5? (Daniel 5:1-5)
  3. How did the king react to the handwriting on the wall (Daniel 5:6-7)? When Daniel was brought before the king, what did Belshazzar say to him (Daniel 5:13-16)? In his reply to the king, what did Daniel say about God and His dealings with Nebuchadnezzar, and how did he confront Belshazzar’s pride (Daniel 18-24)? What did Daniel decode about the judgment of God, and what came to fruition shortly thereafter (Daniel 5:25-30)?
  4. What makes people proud, or stiff-necked toward God nowadays? What can we do to keep pride from clouding our perspective and reverence for God? When someone asks for your opinion or advice, how honest are you in sharing what you think?
  5. How can you begin this week to act on a piece of good advice you have recently been given? What concrete action can you take to deal with an area of chronic sin in your life? What do you want to remember the next time you are rebuked or being disciplined by God?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.

Nebuchadnezzar: The Insanity of Pride

Text: Daniel 4:1-37

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything He does is right and all His ways are just. And those who walk in pride He is able to humble.” —Daniel 4:37

There is an old kid’s story about a lion who was very proud and decided to take a walk one day to demonstrate his mastery over all the other creatures. He strutted his way through the jungle until he came across a bear. “Who is the king of the jungle, bear?” the lion asked. “Why of course you are, mighty lion,” said the bear. The lion went on until he found a tiger. “Who is the king of the jungle, tiger?” “Why you are, great lion.” On he walked until he found an elephant. “Who is the king of the jungle, fat elephant?” The elephant immediately grabbed the lion with his trunk, spun him around a few times, and slammed him to the ground. He then stepped on him a few times, picked him up, dunked him in the water, and threw him up against a tree. The lion staggered to his feet and said, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer is no reason to get so upset!”

None of us are immune to pride. Whether it’s assuming we are better than others, boasting in our achievements, holding on to an offense done to us, needing credit from others, demanding recognition or attention for ourselves, or the arrogant critiquing of how the God of the universe should carry out His affairs, pride always goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

Nobody should understand this more than King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient Babylon. In Daniel 4, we see the world’s most powerful dictator of that time “at ease” in his house and “prospering” in his palace when his kingdom was suddenly interrupted by an alarming dream. From our previous devotions in this series, we understand that Nebuchadnezzar knew who to call when a strange dream needed interpretation, so he referred to Daniel’s business card.

As an unchallenged tyrant, anything the king saw or desired, he simply took. He was forceful, selfish, brutal, and egotistical. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t answer to anyone, or so it seemed. But boy was he in for a rude awakening! Daniel pointed out that the “tree” which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, noted for its size, strength, prominence, beauty, and visibility to the whole earth, was about to get “chopped” down. Daniel makes it very clear, “it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong… you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field.”

Nebuchadnezzar learns a powerful lesson about the insanity of pride. His madness drives him into the wilderness to live in isolation and eat grass on all fours like a wild animal, “till you know” WHO really is in charge—“that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” His hair grew as long as eagle’s feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws. Thus Nebuchadnezzar became the original “Beastie Boy.”

After a period of time, something transformed in Nebuchadnezzar. “I lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me.” If ever we lived in a time when “reason” desperately needed to be returned, these are the height of those days. We have yet to mitigate the curve of unreasonableness in this hour! Our reasonableness is found in direct correlation with our turning, or returning to God—it could cure all of society’s ills. A narcissistic king regains his sanity when he distinctly confesses that God is supreme. He concludes, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

This ancient king teaches us the importance of replacing our pride with humble praise to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Where might you need to let humility guide you into dependence on His grace in this hour? Your reasonableness is very much at stake. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.

PRAYER

Father, you are sovereign and true. Your dominion is an everlasting dominion, and your kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are subject to your mercy. We humble ourselves under your mighty hand. This is our reasonable act of worship. Forgive us of the pride of thinking we can go about this life in our own power. Help us to confront our pride and learn submission to your kingdom reign in our lives today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for Reflection, Small Group or Family Discussion:

  1. What does the term “temporary insanity” mean to you?
  2. What was the meaning of the tree in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 4:20-26)? What happened to the king twelve months after the dream (Daniel 4:28-33)? What happened at the end of the king’s illness (Daniel 4:34-37)?
  3. When has pride brought you low? In what ways can our view of ourselves hinder our spiritual growth? When have you ignored what you felt was a warning from God about specific sinful behavior?
  4. What recent insight, revelation, or reminder about God has given your faith a boost?
  5. Where does humility need to take you this week in submission to the supremacy and authority of God?

Subscribe to “Abiding In Him” and get the latest devotional in your Inbox once a week.

This VBS curriculum is based on the Old Testament book of Daniel. The theme teaches children how to live with courage in uncertain times. It was designed as a camp curriculum for children 8-12 years of age. Can also serve as a 5-week Sunday morning children’s ministry teaching series.