Understanding Who’s In Charge

In ‘Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous’, Ernest Kurtz writes, “Fundamental to the recovery process is that healing and sanity begin with a single realization that I am not God. I’m not in control of my universe. I often cannot even control myself. I violate my own values. I want to do one thing, and then I do something else.” Failure to understand that you are not God can destroy your spiritual life. Failure to surrender and accept our true identity in Christ has eternal consequences. This week we are looking at a man, a King, who discovered this very painful lesson.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, because while the King suffered, his counterpart Daniel flourished. In their stories we will see who is in charge and what implications that has for our lives.

Join us this week as we continue our time in the book of Daniel.

There’s a man named Ernest Kurtz who wrote what’s become the history of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement. The book is called “Not God.” He chose this title because he said the fundamental problem alcoholics have is that way down deep, they refuse to acknowledge limitation, and weakness, and being fallen. They tend to live under the delusion that they’re in control of everything; when the truth is, they can’t even control themselves. This is what he writes in his book: Fundamental to the recovery process is that healing and sanity begin with a single realization that I am not God. I’m not in control of my universe. I often cannot even control myself. I violate my own values. I want to do one thing, and then I do something else. — Ernest Kurtz Now, of course, this “I am God” illusion is not limited to alcoholics. Do you want to guess what was behind the very first sin ever committed? In the book of Genesis in the Garden of Eden: The serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from the tree your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” Genesis 3:5 It was the first temptation. — “You will be like God. You won’t have to submit to anyone else. You can decide what’s right and wrong.” People have been falling for that one for a long time. “You will be like God.” This is at the heart of sin and spiritual confusion. Now, recovery meetings always start with a reminder of spiritual sanity. The first thing people say when they talk at one of those meetings is, “My name is Matt. I’m an alcoholic.” — “Just to get clear on who I am and who I’m not. — I’m not God.” I think it was Anne Lamott who said, “The biggest difference between you and God is God doesn’t think he’s you.” Failure to understand that you are not God can destroy your spiritual life. So today we’re going to study a man who’s about to learn this very painful lesson. He’s not God. Daniel 2, verse 1: In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. Daniel 2:1 Notice, it’s the second year of his reign. He’s been king for over a year now. Assyria, which had been Babylon’s chief enemy, completely collapses five years earlier, so Nebuchadnezzar is the absolute dictator of an empire that reigns with unchallenged authority over the known world. He has youth, strength, wealth, fame and power that was unparalleled in his world. He’s the most secure person on the face of the earth. Essentially, he’s a god. That’s how people think of him. But he’s a god with insomnia. He can’t sleep. And he finds, a year into having everything he’s always wanted, that everything is all wrong and he’s troubled. People who live under this “I am God” delusion are always just one bad dream — just one bad night’s sleep — away from utter insecurity, because they’re building a house on sand. In the second year of his reign, he’s troubled. He calls his advisors together, tells them about his trouble, about the dream and so on. Verse 4: Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic, “May the king live forever!” Daniel 2:4 Let me ask you at this point. How well do you think his advisors did at reminding him that he was not God? Not too well. — “Be eternal, king. May you never die.” I want to give you a kind of picture of Nebuchadnezzar’s world-view, and it was reinforced by the people around him. Nebuchadnezzar saw the world as revolving around him. He’s in control. He’s in charge. People exist to make him happy, to fulfill his joy and pleasure. A lot of people live under this delusion. Well Nebuchadnezzar tells his advisors that he wants to know what he dreamed, because apparently, he can’t remember. They say they can’t help him. And he has a strong response to that. And now we see another aspect of the king’s character, of the “I’m God” syndrome — “The world revolves around me.” People who study human development speak of frustration tolerance. They say people who are mature in character exhibit high-frustration tolerance. They’re able to exercise patience and delayed gratification and so on. Immaturity, on the other hand, is marked by low-frustration tolerance. — “I can’t stand it if I don’t get my way immediately.” Now in verses 10 and 11 the wise men have told the king they can’t help him with this particular problem. Then there’s the king’s response in verse 12: This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel 2:12 How would you assess Nebuchadnezzar’s ability to tolerate frustration — high or low? In case you’re not sure, execution would be an indication of low-frustration tolerance. In fact, he loses it so badly he gets paranoid. Verse 8. This is a very interesting king. The king answered, “I am certain that you’re trying to gain time, because you realize that this is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me the dream, there is just one penalty for you. You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. Daniel 2:8-9 He comes up with a conspiracy theory. He’s paranoid now. He says to all of them after making this impossible request, “I see what’s going on. There’s a conspiracy here. You’ve teamed up to tell me misleading and wicked things. You’re out to get me.” Can you imagine a politician being this emotionally immature? You see, power has a way of confusing people about who’s really at the center of the world. And this is not an unusual thing. There’s a great story about Lyndon Johnson when he was president. Johnson had a cabinet meeting one time. He asked Bill Moyer to pray. Moyer was his press secretary, and also an ordained Southern Baptist, so Lyndon Johnson asked him to pray. So he did, but he was praying real quietly at the other end of the table. So Johnson interrupted him in the middle of prayer and said, “Speak up, Moyer, I can’t hear you.” And Bill Moyer said, “I wasn’t talking to you, sir.” I’m not God. We need to understand that patient acceptance of frustration in everyday life is crucial to the formation of our character. It’s a little reminder that you’re not at the center of the world. So tomorrow, when you’re frustrated — and you will probably be frustrated sometime tomorrow — when you’re stuck in traffic, or the kids spill something, or a task takes longer than you had planned. Instead of getting all bent out of shape, instead of giving into road-rage or spill-rage or task-rage just remind yourself, “I’m not God. The world doesn’t revolve around me, and it doesn’t exist for the purpose of sparing me frustration. This is an opportunity for me to learn to be patient.” You see, Nebuchadnezzar believes the world revolves around him and the results of that are self-preoccupation. All he can see is what’s happening in his own little world. Now, his advisors have another world-view. We see this in verses 10 and 11 when the king makes this unreasonable request. The astrologers answered the king, “There’s not a person on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.” Daniel 2:10-11 This is a very strong statement. “No one can reveal it. No one can help with this problem, except the gods, and they do not live among human beings.” This is a great question for humanity. Does God live on the earth? Does he care about you and me? Or are we left on our own to struggle along as best we can? Here’s the way his advisors see the world — “Here I am and I live on this earth. And there’s a god and he’s up in heaven. But when I try to contact him, there’s this barrier between God and me, and I’m on my own. And when I have problems, I have no place to go but right here.” — “No one can solve this problem except the gods, and they don’t live on earth.” I think part of why that phrase is so poignant is there’s kind of an “ouch factor” attached to it. Because I live like that sometimes. I don’t believe that, but I live like I believe that sometimes. * A problem enters my life, and instead of going to God, I just worry. * I have a burden, and instead of placing it in his hands, I carry it around. * I have an agenda, and instead of surrendering it to God, I want everyone around me to do what I want. I want my will, not God’s will sometimes. And oddly enough, the result of this way of life — this world-view — ends up being the same as it was for Nebuchadnezzar. * It ends up leading to self-preoccupation. — All I see is me. * And I end up with anxiety — a constant state of worry — because I’VE got to solve everything. * And I feel inadequate — because I know I can’t handle it. * And I fear — because I have no hope. It’s a horrible way to live. But then there’s Daniel. Daniel and his friends go to God and they pray. And Daniel is given the interpretation of the dream. And in verses 20 and following, there’s this magnificent hymn of praise. Praise to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. Daniel 2:20 [… even Nebuchadnezzar. Verse 24:] Then Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.” Daniel 2:24 Notice Daniel seeks Arioch out. Daniel has the interpretation so he initiates going to the guy who found him. But look at verse 25: Arioch took Daniel to the king at once and said, “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means.” Daniel 2:25 Now, Arioch puts his little spin on the situation. The truth is, Daniel sought him out. Arioch was going to kill them all. But because he’s going to Nebuchadnezzar and he wants to look good, he says, “I’ve found a man.” Essentially what he’s saying is, “It wasn’t easy, oh king, but you have one highly resourceful guy on your staff. I combed even through the obscure ranks of these exiles. Who else would think of looking there? And I found what you need.” Contrast this with Daniel’s humility. Look at verse 26: The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?” [Now, look at Daniel’s response. Contrast it to Arioch. Verse 27:] Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come.” Daniel 2:26-28 Daniel refuses to take credit for this. “I’m not that smart.” Not only that, notice another detail in verse 36. Daniel goes on to describe the dream, and then he interprets it. Look what he says in verse 36: This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. Daniel 2:36 Why does he say “we?” Well, the writer intends for us to understand that Daniel here is including his friends who he gathered together when this challenge arose, and who prayed for him and asked God to give them mercy and reveal the dream. And the interpretation went to Daniel, but Daniel doesn’t take credit for it. It was his prayers and the prayers of his friends that led to the result. So Daniel says, “We’ll interpret the dream.” I love this little detail. He wants his friends in on the credit. And in verse 49, at the very end of the story, after the king has honored Daniel enormously, it says: Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon. Daniel 2:49 “At Daniel’s request.” He wants his friends in on the credit and he wants his friends in on the promotion. I love this aspect of Daniel’s heart. I want a heart like Daniel’s heart. Because if I’m not God, I don’t have to get all bent out of shape about who gets credit for what. I can just be free of all that junk. If I’m real clear that I’m not God, I don’t have to get obsessed over image management or self-promotion. Daniel doesn’t have to promote himself. He knows God sees and God knows. And I’ll tell you, I think this is part of why I’m deeply drawn to people who don’t take themselves so seriously. Don Shula, hall of fame head coach of the Miami Dolphins was on vacation in New York back in his coaching prime. He went to the movies with his wife. There were just a handful of people in the theater, and when they walked in the people applauded. Shula was pretty impressed with himself that he was famous even there. He nudged his wife, and he said, “I guess there’s no place we can go where I’m not known.” Just before the movie started, a guy came over and shook his hand. Shula said, “I’m surprised you folks know me here,” and the guy’s response was, “Am I supposed to know you? We were just glad you came in. The manager said he wasn’t going to start the movie until there were ten people here.” Don’t take yourself too seriously. Now, Daniel is very careful to give credit to God and to give credit to his friends. There’s just a selflessness about Daniel. He’s not God. I love that about him. — * “No wise man could do this, king, but there’s a God in heaven.” * “Now, we will interpret the dream.” * “King, could you remember my friends?” Well, then he goes on to tell the king about his dream. And he begins to describe it in verse 31. You looked, oh king, and there before you stood a large statue — an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. Daniel 2:31 And he goes on to describe it. It’s got a head of gold and chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, feet of iron and clay. It’s this image of awesome power. And best of all for Nebuchadnezzar is his own part in this statue. Verse 37: Your Majesty, you are the king of kings.The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold. Daniel 2:37-38 You’ll notice how Daniel emphasizes the extent of his power. Nebuchadnezzar is not just ruler over human beings, he’s king of the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. He had much greater power than political rulers in our day. Imagine someone calling our president the ruler over the beasts of the field. We’ve never had a president of the birds. But Nebuchadnezzar is ruler over people and every creature. If he wants any of them, they’re his. So the dream is going good so far, but then Daniel keeps going. “After you, another kingdom will arise… Daniel 2:39 The word that’s translated “kingdom” could also be translated “ruler.” It could be describing rulers that come after Nebuchadnezzar. The text doesn’t say who or what they are. At the base of the statue are feet of clay — iron mixed with clay. And Daniel makes it real clear that all this power, all this splendor, stands on a merely human foundation, and turns out to be utterly vulnerable. Not only that, one day it’s all going to blow away. Verse 34: While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken into pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. [And if you’ve ever been in a culture where the wheat gets threshed out and you see the chaff, it just gets scattered to the wind. That’s the picture here.] The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth. Daniel 2:34-35 [Then down to verse 44. He’s given the interpretation of this.] In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will, itself, endure forever. And of this kingdom, there will be no end. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. Daniel 2:44-45 Daniel, here, is prophesying what would be the hinge of human history. But he wouldn’t live to see it. Neither would centuries of people to follow him. And they would wonder, “Will what Daniel prophesied ever come? What will it look like?” And then, one day, an obscure carpenter from an obscure town began his ministry by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is now at hand.” Do you understand why people trembled when they heard those words? This is what the world was waiting for. Jesus was the rock, not cut by human hands, not prepared by human beings. This is why Peter calls him in 1 Peter 2:4 “The living stone.” The living stone — it’s right out of Daniel. Rejected by human beings, but chosen by God and precious to him. This, in the Old Testament, is a vision of the kingdom of God breaking into human history. This is Daniel’s view of the world: “Here is this earth, and here is my place on it. And I am just one of lots of other people. “And in heaven is this great big God — an infinite God so big that watching over this planet is no trouble for him. It’s no sweat for him, because he’s God. He never has a problem sleeping. He’s never troubled by anxious thoughts or bad dreams. “And not only that, but this God, whose kingdom will one day come to earth, has a direct relationship with me.” Daniel’s view is: “I’m not God. I’m just one of many. I don’t have to promote myself. I don’t have to make sure I get credit for stuff. God knows. God sees. “Therefore, it doesn’t make any difference if I’m just a lowly political prisoner and you’re the most powerful and secure person on the face of this earth. “It doesn’t really matter. There is a God in heaven and he’s not just in heaven, he’s right here. And he knows and he cares. “I’m not God, but I’m his friend. I’m not on my own.” And so Daniel’s life is filled with humility instead of self-preoccupation, and with confidence instead of anxiety, and with a sense of this efficiency in his God instead of personal inadequacy, and a spirit of courage, not fear. And we’ll talk about a couple implications that flow out of understanding who is in charge in just a moment. Alright, I want to talk about two more implications that flow out of understanding who’s in charge. The first implication has to do with Daniel’s deep desire that Nebuchadnezzar understand spiritual reality, that Nebuchadnezzar come face to face with truth. And the implication is this — when I’m clear that I’m not God and that I’m lost apart from God, I will devote myself, I will take all kinds of risks, and I will pay all kinds of prices — I will devote myself to helping people meet God. See, among other things, this book, the Book of Daniel, is a book on inviting. We talk a lot at Blue Oaks about inviting. It’s one of our core values. For Daniel, going into exile, which looks like the end of the world, results in presenting Daniel with the invitation opportunity of a lifetime. A lot of times people find themselves in exile in a difficult marketplace condition or family condition or neighborhood or so on. And Daniel would say it may be the invitation opportunity of a lifetime. In verse 4 we saw this already. It says that the advisors answered the king in Aramaic. There may be a little footnote in your Bible that indicates that from here, Daniel 2:4, all the way through chapter 7, the text is all in Aramaic. The first chapter in Daniel is in the Hebrew language which, of course, virtually the entire Old Testament is in except for a few real isolated, brief spots. But here are six chapters in Aramaic. This is unusual. How often do you pick up a book written in English and have it switch to Italian or French in the second chapter? It doesn’t happen. It wouldn’t sell very much if it did. So why does the writer do this? I’ll tell you what I think. Aramaic was the most common language of the Middle Eastern world at that time. A little bit like English, in most of the Western world, is the most common language. It’s as though the writer was signaling that now God is not just a God of one tribe, one country, one language, one tongue, but he is the God of the whole world. We sometimes think we’re the first to deal with diversity and multiculturalism and stuff. It’s all over in the Book of Daniel. Another detail I want you to notice. I won’t take time to read all the verses right now, but if you look at verse 18, verse 28, verse 37, and verse 44, this is a name for God that’s used only here in the second chapter in Daniel, and only in three books in the Old Testament altogether. It’s the phrase “the God of heaven.” Usually, in the Old Testament Scriptures, they used Hebrew names for God — Yahweh or Elohim. But Daniel wants to make it very clear to Nebuchadnezzar, this God is not just Israel’s God, because Nebuchadnezzar is used to people from other countries thinking they have their gods and Babylon has its gods. This is not one god among many. This is the God of the whole earth — the God of heaven. And he’s Lord of Babylon as well as Israel. And he’s Lord over Nebuchadnezzar, as well as Daniel, whether Nebuchadnezzar knows that or not. * And he’s Lord of Jerusalem. * And he’s Lord of Rome. * And he’s Lord of New York. * And he’s Lord of Washington. * And he’s Lord of San Francisco. * And he’s Lord of Pleasanton. * And he’s Lord of wherever you are. You see Daniel is inviting Nebuchadnezzar to get things right with God. And he’s using great skill and tact. He gives Nebuchadnezzar the good news first: “You’re the head of gold.” That’s good news. But then he gets real frank. “The statue has feet of clay and one day it’s coming down. And Nebuchadnezzar, there is a God — the God of heaven, and he’s going to set things right one day. So you’d better get right with him.” Now, you’ve got to understand the drama of this moment. Here is Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man in the world, who could, without batting an eyelash, kill Daniel if he’s offended. And Daniel says, “Nebuchadnezzar, you’re going to die and your kingdom is going to be swept away without a trace. So you’d better get right with God.” I was thinking what if we had a whole church full of Daniels with that kind of boldness when sharing their faith? Last Sunday as I was greeting people on their way in to church, the thought occurred to me, “Everyone coming to church is here because someone had enough courage to develop a relationship and share their faith and make an invitation.” Then I walked by the coffee area and I noticed someone waiting for a friend she had invited. She was in that vulnerable place where she was just waiting and hoping her friend would come. I was talking to someone a while ago and she said, “I just want you to know I’ve been asking a friend to come to church for months now and she finally agreed to come. She’s coming next weekend. So don’t mess up!” And I’ve got to tell you, I loved that. I love that we get to partner in helping people come to know the true God. And I hope you’re real bold about inviting. You know, if Nebuchadnezzar was going to come to God, God was going to use this exiled, political prisoner Daniel. And Daniel had reasons to shrink back. He could have been killed. But instead he was extremely wise and incredibly bold. Daniel shares all this stuff. Now, it all comes down to this one moment — for Daniel, it’s life or death. Verse 46: Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. 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.” Daniel 2:46-47 And Nebuchadnezzar begins to open his heart to the God of heaven. Now, does he make a decision to put his trust in God at this point? Not really. We’ll see next week. He’s still engaged in pagan idolatry and oppressive violence, but Daniel doesn’t give up on him, because he knows the God of heaven is at work even on Nebuchadnezzar. You know, people’s spiritual journeys are usually not straight up the ladder. Usually, it’s two steps forward and one step back. But if I know I’m not God, and I know that whoever is in my life, even if they’re about as powerful and rich and secure as Nebuchadnezzar, they’re lost without God — I’ll devote myself. I’ll take risks. I’ll reallocate my time to introduce other people to the God of heaven. Alright, the last implication — If God is God and I’m not God, I can stop worrying. I’m invited to stop worrying. I don’t lay this on you as something you need to feel guilty about, because a lot of people who struggle with worry hear that in Scripture. It says they shouldn’t worry, and they feel guilty, and then they worry about worrying too much. So I offer you this as an invitation — You don’t have to worry. And when worry comes along, allow it to be a prompting of the Spirit to remind you that, “You know what? I’m not God. I don’t carry the world on my shoulders, because my shoulders aren’t big enough. So God, I’m going to just give this to you.” And anytime a worry comes, just use it as a little prompt to give it to God. You see, Daniel is convinced in this foreign land, under a death threat from a tyrant, that his life and world are in competent hands. So he doesn’t have to live in fear. And the writer brings this out, I think, in quite a beautiful and striking way. The end of the story it says in verse 48: The king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all of its wise men. Daniel 2:48 Daniel, now, is going to play at a whole new level. And as people are able to contribute in greater and greater ways to the kingdom — it may be visible, it may not — but as people do that, new adventures open up to them. But here’s what’s interesting. In a story like this, at this point, after it’s turned out that God has moved and wonderful things have happened to the central character, Daniel, normally it would be at this point when a hymn of praise is offered to God saying, “Thank you, God, for this amazing turn of events that I’ve ended up being honored and praised and given this amazing opportunity.” But the hymn of praise doesn’t come at the end of the story. Where does it come? Back in the middle of the story in verse 20. Now remember, the king, initially, put all the wise men, including the exiles, including Daniel, under a death threat. They were all going to be executed. When Daniel offers this hymn of praise, he’s talked to God. He’s received an interpretation. But externally, what’s changed in his situation? Nothing! He’s still under a death sentence. He hasn’t met with Nebuchadnezzar yet. He doesn’t know if he’s going to be able to. Nebuchadnezzar could refuse to see him. Or Nebuchadnezzar could go ahead and see him and be offended by what he says and execute him or laugh at him. There’s all kinds of possibilities to worry about. Nothing has changed except Daniel knows that this real big God has spoken. He knows who’s driving the bus and that’s enough. He can trust God. And the writer does this with great skill. As readers in verse 20, we have no idea yet how the story is going to turn out. And we’re asked to praise God with Daniel in the middle of a story that we don’t know the end to yet. Why would the writer do that? You see, that’s my life. That’s your life. Do you have problems you’re dealing with? Well, you’re in the middle of your story. And every time you join us online for a service like this, you do what Daniel did right in the middle of his story. You praise God in the middle of your story. And you don’t know how your life is going to turn out. Maybe some exciting and wonderful things are going to happen. Maybe some real difficult and painful things are going to happen. You don’t know how your story is going to turn out, but if you know who’s driving, if you know whose hands the world is in, you can trust his care and confidence. And you can, in the middle of your story, pour out your heart in worship and adoration of this God who holds times and seasons in his hands, who sets kings and CEOs and presidents up and brings them down. So this week just take a vacation from worrying. And anytime you feel a little anxiety, just stop and say to yourself, “I’m not God. And so I’m going to praise him in the middle of my story.” Alright, let me pray for you. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA