FOLLOWING CHRIST IN A PRECHRISTIAN WORLD – PART IV “BEWARE OF PUTTING GOD IN A BOX” … A Sermon By Dick Emery


You can hear Pastor Emery’s sermons here http://www.mohnshill.org

FOLLOWING CHRIST IN A PRECHRISTIAN WORLD – PART IV

“BEWARE OF PUTTING GOD IN A BOX”

DANIEL 4

INTRODUCTION:

REES HOWELL:

“I WOULD LIKE TO BUY THREE DOLLARS WOTH OF GOD, PLEASE, NOT ENOUGH TO EXPLODE MY SOUL OR DISTURB MY SLEEP, BUT JUST ENOUGH TO EQUAL A CUP OF WARM MILK OR A SNOOZE IN THE SUNSHINE.

I DON’T WANT ENOUGH OF HIM TO MAKE ME LOVE A BLACK MAN OR PICK BEETS WITH A MIGRANT. I WANT ECSTASY, NOT TRANSFORMATION; I WANT THE WARMTH OF THE WOMB, NOT A NEW BIRTH. I WANT A POUND OF THE ETERNAL IN A PAPER SACK. I WOULD LIKE TO BUY $3:00 WORTH OF GOD, PLEASE.”

THE WRITER IS EXPRESSING THE TRUTH THAT THOUGH WE MAY RECOGNIZE THE EXISTENCE OF GOD IN THE WORLD AND THOUGH WE MAY EVEN GIVE MENTAL ASSENT TO HIS AUTHORITY, WE STILL, SO OFTEN, WANT TO KEEP HIM AT A SAFE DISTANCE. THREE DOLLARS WORTH OF HIS PERSON IS SUFFICIENT. WE WANT JUST ENOUGH OF HIM TO

KEEP OUR GUILT LEVEL LOW AND TO HAVE SOME ASSURANCE OF ESCAPING THE FLAMES OF HELL. ANY MORE OF HIM MIGHT MAKE US NERVIOUS ABOUT OUR LIFESTYLE, OUR VALUES, AND OUR PRIORITIES. THREE DOLLARS WORTH OF HIM, IN A PAPER SACK, IS ENOUGH. THANK YOU.

ACTUALLY, IT IS NOT A SACK THAT WE ATTEMPT TO PUT HIM IN, BUT A BOX. WE ATTEMPT TO PUT GOD IN THE BOX OF OUR CONTROL, A BOX WE CAN OPEN AND CLOSE WHEN WE SEE FIT. TWO THINGS HAPPEN WHEN WE TRY TO DO THAT. FIRST, WE LIMIT WHAT HE CAN ACCOMPLISH IN AND THROUGH OUR LIVES. SECOND, EVENTUALLY HE WILL COME EXPLODING OUT OF THE BOX.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH BEANIE WEANIES

TODAY WE ARE GOING TO LOOK AT THE TESTIMONY OF A MAN WHO EXPERIENCED JUST THAT. HIS STORY IS CONTAINED IN DANIEL CHAPTER FOUR. IN DANIEL 4 THE FOCUS SHIFTS FROM DANIEL AND HIS THREE HEBREW FRIENDS SERVING IN THE COURT OF KING NEBUCHADNEZZAR OF BABYLON, TO THE KING, HIMSELF.

THE CHAPTER BEGINS IN AN INTERESTING WAY. WE FIND THE KING OF BABYLON PRAISING THE GOD OF THE HEBREWS.

VERSES 2-3 (NOT ON SCREEN) “IT IS MY PLEASUR TO TELL YOU ABOUT THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS AND WONDERS THAT THE MOST HIGH GOD HAS PERFORMED FOR ME. HOW GREAT ARE HIS SIGNS, HOW MIGHTY HIS WONDERS! HIS KINGDOM IS AND ETERNAL KINGDOM; HIS DOMINION ENDURES FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION.”

OBVIOUSLY, THIS KING OF ANCIENT BABYLON HAS EXPERIENCED SOMETHING VERY PROFOUND THAT HAS CHANGED HIS LIFE AND HIS VIEW OF THE GOD OF DANIEL. BEGINNING AT VERSE 4 HE TELLS US WHAT IT IS. (SUMMARIZE VERSES 4-27)

BEFORE WE LOOK AT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT, WE NEED TO LOOK BACK AT NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S PREVIOUS RESPONSES TO GOD’S INTERUPTIONS IN HIS LIFE. HIS FIRST RESPONSE IS FOUND IN DANIEL CHAPTER 2. (REVIEW) DANIEL’S ABILITY TO INTERPRET THE DREAM SO IMPRESSED THE KING THAT HE PROMOTED DANIEL TO A PROMINENT POSITION IN HIS COURT AND THEN HAD THIS TO SAY ABOUT DANIEL’S GOD:

CHAPTER 2, VERSE 47 “THE KING SAID TO DANIEL, ‘SURELY YOUR GOD IS THE GOD OF GODS AND THE LORD OF KINGS AND A REVEALER OF MYSTERIES, FOR YOU WERE ABLE TO REVEAL THIS MYSTERY.”

AT FIRST GLANCE, IT SEEMS THAT THE KING HAS REALLY BOUGHT IN TO DANIEL’S GOD, BUT HIS LATER ACTIONS PROVE OTHERWISE. HE WAS MERELY ACKNOWLEDGING THE EXISTENCE OF DANIEL’S GOD. NOW THIS IS IMPORTANT. AS THE BIBLE SAYS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT BOOK OF HEBREWS; “ANYONE WHO COMES TO GOD MUST BELIEVE THAT HE EXISTS.” SUCH BELIEF IS IMPORTANT BUT IT IS JUST A BEGINNING POINT. IT SEEMS, HOWEVER, THAT THIS IS AS FAR AS NEBUCHADNEZZAR WOULD GO AT THIS POINT. I HAVE DISCOVERED THAT THERE ARE AT LOT OF PEOPLE LIKE THAT. THEY ONLY GO THAT FAR AND THINK IT IS ENOUGH.

  • WE ATTEMPT TO LIMIT GOD TO THE BOX OF OUR KNOWLEDGE.

SOMETIMES PEOPLE THINK THAT ACKNOWLEDGING GOD’S EXISTENCE IS ENOUGH. YOU ASK A PERSON; “ARE YOU A CHRISTIAN?’ THEY RESPOND; “YES, I BELIEVE IN GOD. IN FACT, I HAVE ALWAYS BELEVED IN GOD.” KIND OF LIKE; “GOD SHOULD BE IMPRESSED THAT I BELIEVE IN HIM.”

KNOWLEDGE IS IMPORTANT. WE CANNOT EMBRACE WHAT WE DO NOT KNOW ABOUT. BUT KNOWING ABOUT GOD AND BELEVING HE EXISTS IS NOT ENOUGH. (ANOLOGY-MEDICINE).SO MANY PEOPLE LIMIT GOD TO THE BOX OF KNOWLEDGE. THEY MAY EVEN GO TO CHURCH, STUDY ABOUT GOD, LISTEN TO MESSAGES ABOUT GOD, SING SONGS ABOUT GOD, BUT THAT’S AS FAR AS IT GOES. “THREE DOLLARS WORTH OF GOD IN A PAPER BAG PLEASE. THAT’S ALL I’M COMFORTABLE WITH,” THEY SAY.

WE ATTEMPT TO LIMIT GOD TO THE BOX OF OUR KNOWLEDGE.

NEBUCHDNEZZAR’S NEXT ENCOUNTER WITH THE GOD OF THE HEBREWS IS IN CHAPTER 3. WE TALKED ABOUT IT LAST WEEK. (REVIEW) LISTEN, AGAIN, TO NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S RESPONSE.

DANIEL 3:28-29 “THEN NEBACHUDNEZZAR SAID, ‘PRAISE BE TO THE GOD OF SHADRACH, MESHACH AND ABEDNAGO, 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. THEREFORE I DECREE THAT THE PEOPLE OF ANY NATION OR LANGUAGE WHO SAY ANYTHING AGAINST THE GOD OF SHADRACH, MESHACH AND ABEDNAGO BE CUT INTO PIECES AND THEIR HOUSES BE TURNED INTO PILES OF RUBBLE, FOR NO OTHER GOD CAN SAVE IN THIS WAY.”

SURELY THESE WORDS ARE AN INDICATION OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S CONVERSION TO THE GOD OF ISRAEL? AGAIN, NOT SO FAST. IF WE LOOK CLOSELY AT HIS WORDS WE WILL SEE THAT WHAT HE IS REALLY DOING IS ACKNOWLEDGING THAT ISRAEL’S GOD IS A UNIQUE GOD WHO CAN SAVE PEOPLE FROM BURNING UP IN A FIRE. “NO OTHER GOD CAN SAVE IN THIS WAY” HE SAYS. “SUCH A GOD DESERVES RESPECT ALONG SIDE OF ALL OUR OTHER GODS.” THAT’S WHAT HE IS REALLY SAYING. HE EVEN GOES TO THE EXTREME OF DECLARING THAT ANYONE WHO REFUSES TO SHOW RESPECT TO THE GOD OF THE HEBREWS, “WOULD BE CUT TO PIECES AND THEIR HOUSES TORN DOWN.” HE WAS GETTING PRETTY EMOTIONAL ABOUT DEFENDING THIS GOD OF THE HEBREWS. SURELY THIS MUST HAVE IMPRESSED GOD? I DON’T THINK SO. I THINK NEBUCHADNEZZAR WAS DOING WHAT MANY PEOPLE DO.

  • WE ATTEMPT TO LIMIT GOD TO THE BOX OF MENTAL ASSENT.

“OF COARSE I BELIEVE IN GOD” SOME PEOPLE SAY. “DON’T SAY ANYTHING AGAINST HIM.” “ISN’T IT A CRIME THAT THEY’VE KICKED HIM OUT OF THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS.” HEY, I’M A RELIGIOUS PERSON. I GO TO CHURCH EVERY SUNDAY EXCEPT WHEN I HAVE SOMETHING MORE IMPORTANT TO DO, LIKE GOLF OR HUNTING, ETC.”

WHEN WE ATTEMPT TO LIMIT GOD TO THE BOX OF OUR MENTAL ASSENT WE ADOPT AN OUTWARDLY RELIGIOUS EXTERIOR. WE MAY EVEN GET EMOTIONAL ABOUT IT LIKE THE KING IN THIS STORY, BUT FOR US IT IS NOT GOD ONLY BUT GOD AND.

NEBUCHANEZZAR WASAT THE PLACE OF MENTAL ASSENT, BUT HIS ACCEPTANCE OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL WOULD GO ONLY SO FAR. HE WANTED THE BENEFITS WITHOUT THE PERSONAL SURRENDER. I’M AFRAID THAT IS WHERE MANY ARE TODAY, EVEN SOME OF THOSE WHO SIT IN CHURCH SERVICES ON A REGULAR BASIS. THEY ARE ATTEMPTING TO LIMIT GOD TO THE BOX OF MENTAL ASSENT. THEY DON’T WANT HIM TO THREATEN THEIR SELF-CENTERED PRIVATE KINGDOM. THEY DON’T WANT HIM TO CHANGE THEM. ‘GIVE ME THREE DOLLARS WORTH OF GOD IN A PAPER BAG PLEASE. I WANT GOD AND NOT GOD ONLY.

THE TRUTH IS, MY FRIENDS, THAT GOD WILL NOT STAY IN ANY BOX OF OUR LIMITATIONS. HE WILL EXPLODE OUT OF IT. THAT PROVED TO BE THE EXPERIENCE OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR. LET’S LOOK AT THE REST OF THE ACCOUNT IN DANIEL 4.BEGINNING AT VERSE 28 WE HAVE A RECOUNTING OF WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED TO NEBUCHADNEZZER WHEN GOD EXPLODED OUT OF THE BOXES IN WHICH HE WAS TRYING TO KEEP HIM.

VERSES 28-37 “ALL THIS HAPPENED TO KING NEBUCHADNEZZAR. TWELVE MONTHS LATER, AS THE KING WAS WALKING ON THE ROOF OF THE ROYAL PALACE OF BABYLON, HE SAID, ‘IS THIS NOT THE GREAT BABYLON I HAVE BUILT AS THE ROYAL RESIDENCE, BY MY MIGHTY POWER AND FOR THE GLORY OF MY MAJESTY.

THE WORDS WERE STILL ON HIS LIPS WHEN A VOICE CAME FROM HEAVEN, ‘THIS IS WHAT IS DECREED FOR YOU, KING NEBUCHADNEZZAR: YOUR ROYAL AUTHORITY HAS BEEN TAKEN AWAY FROM YOU. YOU WILL BE DRIVEN FROM THE PEOPLE AND WILL LIVE WITH THE WILD ANIMALS; YOU WILL EAT GRASS LIKE CATTLE. SEVEN TIMES WILL PASS BY YOU UNTIL YOU ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE MOST HIGH IS SOVEREIGN OVER THE KINGDOMS OF MEN AND GIVES THEM TO ANYONE HE WISHES.’

IMMEDIATELY WHAT HAD BEEN SAID ABOUT NEBUCHADNEZZAR WAS FULFILLED. HE WAS DRIVEN AWAY FROM THE PEOPLE AND ATE GRASS LIKE CATTLE. HIS BODY WAS DRENCHED WITH THE DEW OF HEAVEN UNTIL HIS HAIR GREW LIKE FEATHERS OF AN EAGLE AND HIS NAILS LIKE THE CLAWS OF A BIRD..

“AT THE END OF THAT TIME, I NEBUCHADNEZZAR, RAISED MY EYES TOWARD HEAVEN, AND MY SANITY WAS RESTORED. THEN I PRAISED THE MOST HIGH; I HONORED AND GLORIFIED HIM WHO LIVES FOREVER. HIS DOMINION IS AN ETERNAL DOMINION; HIS KINGDOM ENDURES FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION. ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH ARE REGARDED AS NOTHING. HE DOES AS HE PLEASES WITH THE POWERS OF HEAVEN AND THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH. NO ONE CAN HOLD BACK HIS HAND OR SAY TO HIM: ‘WHAT HAVE YOU DONE.’

AT THE SAME TIME THAT MY SANITY WAS RESTORED, MY HONOR AND SPLENDOR WERE RETURNED TO ME FOR THE GLORY OF MY KINGDOM. MY ADVISERS SOUGHT ME OUT, AND I WAS RESTORED TO MY THRONE AND BECAME EVEN GREATER THAN BEFORE. 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.”

DO YOU THINK THIS GUY EXPERIENCED A CONVERSION, A TRANSFORMATION OR WHAT? THERE WAS A PROFOUND CHANGE IN THE KINGS THINKING.

THE BOXES THAT WE ATTEMPT TO PUT GOD IN ARE MADE UP OF A SINGLE MATERIAL. IT’S CALLED PRIDE. ALL THE BOXES ARE PRIDE BOXES. BUT GOD WON’T LET US GET AWAY WITH ATTEMPTING TO STUFF HIM DOWN INSIDE OUR PRIDE BOXES. HE LOVES US TO MUCH TO DO THAT. HE MADE US FOR A RICHER EXISTENCE AND DEEP INSIDE OUR PERSONHOOD WE KNOW IT. WHETHER GOD PERSONALLY INTERUPTS US AS HE DID NEBUCHADNEZZAR, OR OUR SPIRIT SIMPLY GROWS LEAN FEEDING ON THE EMPTY DIETY OUR PRIDE FEEDS US, GOD WILL NOT STAY IN THE BOX WE CONSTRUCT FOR HIM.

C.S. LEWIS DESCRIBES EXPERIENCES WITH GOD, LIKE NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S EXPERIENCE, AS “GOD’ KIND HARDNESS” OR HIS “SEVERE MERCIES.”

OVER NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S FORTYTHREE YEAR REIGN GOD REPEATEDLY INTERUPPTED HIS SELF-AGGRANDIZING SCHEMES AND HIS ATTEMPTS TO PLACE THE GOD OF THE UNIVERSE IN A BOX. FINALLY HE EXPLODED OUT OF THE BOX BRINGING THE GREAT KING TO HIS KNEES. NEBUCHADNEZZAR FINALLY REALIZED HIS PERSONAL NEED OF SOMETHING MORE AND THAT SOMETHING MORE WAS A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH DANIEL’S GOD, THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.THE GREAT KING OF BABYLON BOWED BEFORE THE KING OF THE UNIVERSE. IT WAS THEN THAT HE FOUND PEACE AND REST THAT HE HAD FOUND NOWHERE ELSE WITH ALL OF HIS ABILITY TO BUY HAPPINESS.

THAT’S WHERE YOU AND I WILL, ALWAYS, FIND IT TO.

  • WE NEED TO SURRENDER FULLY TO THE GOD WHO HAS NO LIMITS.

AUTHOR MAX LUCADO, IN ONE OF HIS BOOKS, TELLS THE STORY ABOUT VISITING A PRISONER,BY THE NAME OF ANIBAL, IN A BRAZILIAN JAIL. HE WAS A HARDENED CRIMINAL, A MURDERER. MAX AND A FRIEND WENT TO SHARE THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT JESUS CHRIST WITH THE MAN.THEY TOLD HIM THAT JESUS DIED FOR HIM AND THAT HE COULD BE FORGIVEN IF HE WOULD ADMIT HIS SIN, ASK FORGIVENESS AND TRUST CHRIST. BUT, SAYING I’M SORRY WAS OUT OF CHARACTER FOR THIS MAN. HE RESISTED.

NOW LISTEN TO THE REST OF THE STORY AS MAX RELATES IT IN HIS BOOK:

“IN ONE FINAL EFFORT TO PIERCE THE PRIDE, I ASKED HIM, ‘DON’T YOU WANT TO GO TO HEAVEN?’

‘SURE,’ HE GRUNTED.

‘ARE YOU READY?’

EARLIER HE MIGHT HAVE BOASTED YES, BUT NOW HE’D HEARD TOO MANY VERSES FROM THE BIBLE. HE KNEW BETTER.

HE STARED AT THE CONCRETE FLOOR FOR A LONG TIME MEDITATING ON THE QUESTION. FOR A MOMENT I THOUGHT HIS STONY HEART WAS CRACKING. FOR A SECOND, IT APPEARED THAT BURLEY ANIBAL WOULD FOR THE FIRST TIME ADMIT HIS FAILURES.

BUT I WAS WRONG. THE EYES THAT LIFTED TO MEET MINE WEREN’T TEAR-FILLED; THEY WERE ANGRY. THEY WEREN’T THE EYES OF A REPENTANR PRODIGAL; THEY WERE THE EYES OF AN ANGRY PRISONER.

‘ALL RIGHT,’ HE SHRUGGED. ‘I’LL BECOME ONE OF YOUR CHRISTIANS. BUT DON’T EXPECT ME TO CHANGE THE WAY I LIVE.’

THE CONDITIONAL ANSWER LEFT MY MOUTH BITTER. ‘YOU DON’T DRAW THE RULES.’ I TOLD HIM. ‘IT’S NOT A CONTRACT THAT YOU NEGOTIATE BEFORE YOU SIGN.’ ‘IT’S A GIFT—AN UNDESERVED GIFT! BUT TO RECEIVE IT YOU HAVE TO ADMIT THAT YOU NEED IT.’

‘OK.’ HE RAN HIS THICK FINGERS THROUGH HIS HAIR AND STOOD UP.’BUT DON’T EXPECT TO SEE ME AT CHURCH ON SUNDAYS.’

I SIGHED. HOW MANY KNOCKS IN THE HEAD DOES A GUY NEED BEFORE HE’LL ASK FOR HELP?

AS I WATCHED ANIBAL PACE BACK AND FORTH IN THE TINY CELL, I REALIZED THAT HIS TRUE PRISON WAS NOT MADE OF BRICKS AND MORTAR, BUT OF PRIDE. HE WAS TWICE IMPRISONED, ONCE BECAUSE OF MURDER, AND ONCE BECAUSE OF STUBBORNNESS. ONCE BY HIS COUNTRY AND ONCE BY HIMSELF.”

WHEN WE ATTEMPT TO PUT GOD IN A BOX WHAT WE ARE REALLY DOING IS BOXING OURSELVES IN. WE BECOME PRISONERS OF OUR OWN PRIDE. GOD, BECAUSE OF HIS LOVE FOR US REFUSES TO STAY IN THE BOX WITH US. HE EXPLODES OUT. THE QUESTION IS, WILL WE STAY IN THE BOX AND CONDEMN OURSELVES TO THE LIMITATIONS OF THE BOX OR WILL WE TRUST HIM ENOUGH TO FOLLOW HIM OUT? WILL WE SETTLE FOR THREE DOLLARS WORTH OF GOD OR DO WE WANT ALL OF HIM. THAT IS WHAT HE OFFERS TO US. IT’S UP TO US.

LISTEN TO THE TESTIMONY OF A MAN WHO LIVED DURING THE FIRST CENTURY AND DID JUST THAT. HIS NAME IS PAUL. HE BECAME AN APOSTLE IN CHURCH HISTORY, THOUGH HE CONSIDERED HIMSELF THE LEAST LIKELY TO BE SUCH.

PHILIPPIANS 3:7-8 “BUT WHATEVER WAS TO MY PROFIT I NOW CONSIDER LOSS FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST. WHAT IS MORE, I CONSIDER EVERYTHING A LOSS COMPARED TO THE SURPASSING GREATNESS OF KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD, FOR WHOSE SAKE I HAVE LOST ALL THINGS. I CONSIDER THEM RUBBISH, THAT I MAY GAIN CHRIST.”

IS THAT WHERE YOU ARE OR ARE YOU STILL TRYING TO PUT GOD IN A BOX?

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