We are wrapping up a two-week sermon series, Guardrails. Chances are, you know what a guardrail is and what they are for; It’s a system designed to keep vehicles from straying into dangerous areas.
The interesting thing is that guardrails are not actually located on the most dangerous part of the road because the point of the guardrail isn’t to say, “don’t drive on this particular piece of real estate.” The point is to communicate that just beyond the guardrail is danger.
The idea is that you will do less damage if you hit a guardrail than if you hit what is on the other side.
What we’re doing in this series is thinking about this whole idea of guardrails as it relates to our lives. Because chances are, your greatest regret could have been avoided if you had some guardrails.
So last week, we came up with our own definition; a guardrail as a personal standard of behavior, or behavioral rules . . . that nobody else may subscribe to . . . but that you are so committed to that when you violate them, it bothers your conscience.
As you bump up against them, internally a little warning light goes on, and there’s something in you that says, “Danger, danger, danger” because if you know that if you ignore it, it may lead you into areas of trouble from which you might not recover.
The idea is that you would say, “In this area of my life, this is as far as I’m going because I know that, for me, what’s on the other side is dangerous; something that I might regret.”
What we said last week is that these guardrails are about relationship and trust. Trusting that God knows the danger on the other side and he wants to protect you from it because if you enter the danger zone, it will hurt the relationships you have with God and with each other. In other words, on the other side of the guardrail is sin and what I suggested last week is that sin is the result of broken trust.
Now if you’re anything like me, there’s a little push back when we think about setting up personal guardrails; there’s an internal tension because we’re afraid that there are things between where I am and where I shouldn’t be that I’m missing out on, or that I’m not having as much fun as everybody else.
But here’s the thing . . . not having guardrails does not eliminate the tension, all it does is erode your resolve. For example, if you decide to cheat on test or lie about something, even though you know it’s wrong, it’s a lot easier to do it again isn’t it? And before you know it, cheating becomes a way of life.
So, it’s important to set up guardrails, even though it might create some tension. But here’s the good news; God sometimes uses your guardrails to not just protect you, but to direct you.
This is what we’re going to talk about today. Let’s listen to our text: Daniel 1:11-20
Let’s put this into context. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, decided to conquer Israel, specifically the city of Jerusalem.
Now Nebuchadnezzar was a brilliant guy; when he would conquer a major metropolitan city, instead of just destroying it and enslaving everybody, he would take captive the royal family, the best and the brightest, and the most educated and bring them back to the capital city.
Then he would put them into a training program where he would slowly strip away all their culture and replace it with Babylonian culture.
So, his capital city was a magnificent place full of brilliant people, the brightest scholars but whose world-view has changed and then, in some cases, he would send them back out to export Babylonian culture to the rest of the world. It was brilliant.
In 605 B.C., he sends his armies into the city of Jerusalem, conquers it, goes into the temple and pretty much destroys it, takes all the things that are valuable to enrich his kingdom and brings back Israel’s best and brightest. And four of these people are guys you’ve probably heard of; Daniel is one of them.
The others are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
So, he gets these guys, along with other brilliant people from all over the world that he has captured and puts them into a three-year training program; like graduate school except the education is free, and you get a food allowance that comes right off the king’s table.
At the end of the program, they would have an oral exam, and the best and brightest of this group would get to work for the king and live in his palace. Pretty good gig.
But Daniel was so smart he saw the end game. As they gave him new clothes, shaved his head, pierced his ear, and gave him a new name; Belteshazzar. Nice name, huh?
They took the name of the Babylonian god, Bel and attached it with part of their language, and it meant something like, Bel will take care of you.
As he saw all they were doing to him, he realized what was happening; slowly they were stripping away everything he believed, everything he knew, and everything he placed his faith in. And that one day, he would wake up and be a Babylonian; worshipping Babylonian gods, and taking part in their ceremonies.
In this moment, Daniel recognized that compromise does not erase the tension, it only weakens our resolve. And so, he decided to do something about it; put up a guardrail and say, “enough is enough – this is as far as I go.”
So, he goes to the chief official and says, “Yo, me and boys aren’t gonna eat the king’s food or drink his wine because we don’t want to defile ourselves”.
There’s a lot of speculation about why Daniel didn’t want to eat the food or drink the wine.
- One is that the wine and food had been offered to one of the Babylonian gods, and the eat the food and drink the wine would be acknowledging that those gods exist.
- Another explanation is that he is Jewish, and he didn’t know if the food was kosher, and didn’t want to violate Mosaic law; the covenant agreement between God and his people.
I’m not exactly sure why but what we know is that he decided; you can push me, and push me, and push me, but this is as far as I go.
What’s cool about this is that unlike us, who can read the story and see that it turns out pretty-great in the end, Daniel made up his mind before he knew how his story ended.
You see, for him, a young man far away from home, surrounded by the most powerful people in the world, saying “No, this is as far as I go” could mean a death sentence.
But let me tell you why he made the decision before he knew the end of the story. He made this decision because he could predict the end of his story if he didn’t. He knew where this was leading, and it was a place he wasn’t willing to go . . . a danger zone . . . and so he made up his mind, “Enough is enough – this is as far as I go”.
So, he’s talking to the chief official telling him that he and his boys don’t want to eat the food or drink the wine because it’s going to defile them, and you’d think he’d respond with something like, “You know there are some people in this city who don’t have anything to eat. We’re offering you the best there is, and you think it’s going to defile your body? Well, aren’t you something special?”
But the next verse is kind of a game changer for everybody. It begins with, “Now God”.
Here’s why this is so important. As you are evaluating your guardrails and you’re worried that you’re going to miss out on something fun or that people might think that you’re weird . . . the part we tend to forget to factor in is, the “Now God” part.
The Now God part is when God uses your guardrails to not just protect you, but to direct you.
What happens from this point on . . . after Daniel drew a line in the sand was that God used that line to direct his entire life. If he had not made this decision, we wouldn’t be telling this story. There wouldn’t be a book of Daniel in scripture.
Everything hinged on his decision; it was a defining moment that God used to change the trajectory of his life.
But Daniel didn’t know it. He didn’t know that God was doing something behind the scenes; God was already softening the heart of the chief official, so he would show compassion towards Daniel.
So, he’s talking to the chief official and he responds, “OK, I hear you but there’s a little problem. If I change your diet and your health fails, the king is going to have my head, so I just can’t give you an out on this one.”
Now this part isn’t in scripture, but I think there was a wink-wink thing going on. Something like, “I can’t help you but maybe you should talk to that guy over there . . . wink-wink.”
So, Daniel and his guys go to the chief steward and say, “Look we don’t want to eat the food or drink the wine and we understand the dilemma but just give us ten days. If our health deteriorates, then we’ll talk again.”
Somehow . . . or should I say the “Now God” part kicked in . . . they work it out and he gives them ten days to try out the new diet and after the ten days, they were evaluated and the officials discover that these guys who chose the diet of fruits and veggies are healthier than the rest of the guys who ate the meat and drank the wine.
This would make a great infomercial, wouldn’t it?
Here’s how the story ends . . . to these four men, God gave knowledge and understanding. The king talked with them, and he found none equal and so they entered the kings service.
And this was just the beginning of a journey that would end up making all kinds of difference in the nation of Israel, the book of Daniel, the lion’s den thing, the fiery furnace thing; you’ve heard all those stories.
It all began right here with a simple decision to say, “You know what, this is as far as I go. This is the line in the sand. Because I know that if I don’t set up some guardrails, this isn’t going to turn out well for me.” And used that moment not just to protect Daniel but to direct his life from that point forward.
As we wrap up, here’s the challenge for you and for me. We have to make up our mind. We’ve got to resolve in our heart that this is as far I go in this area of my life because I know that on the other side is danger; something I might regret for the rest of my life.
And I realize that you have no idea what hangs in the balance of your decision to establish guardrails for your life and that it might be freaking you out but my hunch is that for many of us, that decision will be a defining moment, and you will look back and say, “God didn’t simply protect me, he used that moment to redirect my entire life and to give it meaning and purpose.”