At the beginning of today’s message, Pastor Marcus asked us all to reflect on a favorite memory from childhood or a favorite holiday and he invited a couple of people to share their memories with the church. He found exactly what he expected to find in these shared memories: that our favorite memories revolve around our community and the people that we love.
Our God is a triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost); He himself is a community.
Today’s message is about Christ-centered friendships & community. Our God is a triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost); He himself is a community. God loved and came for the church, which in the Greek ecclesia means “the gathering.” We have a communal God who came for His church, the gathering, and meanwhile, the name of our enemy, the devil, means “he who divides.”
As you read the book of Genesis, you will see that each day as God created the world, He looked upon His creation and claimed, “It is good.” But the first time God proclaims that something is not good in His creation is in Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
The enemy is a divider - he wants to divide you from the presence of God, destroy you, lie to you, separate you from God, and separate you from your community of godly relationships.
Pastor Marcus was recently a temporarily single dad to his four children while his wife was in England visiting her sister. For ten days his wife was “drinking spots of tea and getting her Downton Abbey on,” while on this side of the pond “it was a little rough” for him to be alone, and he discovered for himself, “it is not good for man to be alone.”
Marcus’ son was told that his ankle, thought to be healed after the cast removal, was not healed and would require another 4 weeks of casting. His daughter had to schedule reconstructive knee surgery for a torn ACL and was told she would miss an entire year of soccer. His other daughter was concussed during a sports game. He tried his best to comfort and support each of his children, but just didn’t feel like he had many tools to do so. Then in taking the kids to lunch to cheer them up, he turned into a van and damaged his wife’s new minivan!
Needless to say, Marcus was thrilled to welcome Tracey back home from England because he was no longer holding down the fort alone. He was rejoined with his community - his partner - and suddenly he was more powerful, confident, and effective as a parent and his ministry increased.
Our Scripture today is from the book of Daniel, and highlights a community of four young men: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Hebrews who were living in the land of Judah. Judah was besieged by the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar and its resources plundered for Babylon. Yet rather than killing or enslaving some of the young, strong, talented men, they were taken to live in the king’s palace and to be brought up and educated that they might be a resource to the king.
As we read their story, we can learn three things that having a godly community can bring to our lives:
1) Power - Christ-centered community gives you power. (Daniel 1:17)
The king deemed these young men as part of the royal family and they were given a lavish banquet of food and wine to make them strong, but these foods were not acceptable for Hebrews to eat, according to God’s guidelines for them. So they approached the guard and asked to be given only fresh vegetables and water, and that after ten days, they should be compared with the other young men who were feasting on the royal food to see if they would indeed look worse than the others. So for ten days, the four friends were given the special food to honor their God and at the end, they were found to be better than their royal counterparts, and when they were eventually presented to the king, they were accepted into his service.
These four friends may not have had the strength or courage to stand up and set themselves apart if they had been separated, but together they had power. God saw the faithfulness of His servants, that they desired to honor Him and to follow His law above the earthly commands before them, and He granted them even more power.
To these four young men, God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. Daniel 1:17
2) Provision (Daniel 2:49)
God granted Daniel this special gift of interpreting dreams, knowing the events that were to follow. Nebuchadnezzar began having dreams that he did not understand, and they disturbed him greatly. He wanted an explanation, so he summoned all of the wise people in his kingdom and asked them to name the dream and interpret. All the rest claimed that this task would be impossible, but God had empowered Daniel to do this very task. King Nebuchadnezzar witnessed this God-given power and poured out honor and blessing upon Daniel:
Then 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 its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court. Daniel 2:49
Notice that God provides for Daniel, and provides for his community by making sure that his three friends are included in the blessing.
Many people in financial or practical need call upon the church for assistance. In the process of trying to provide support for them, the church asks, “Where is your family? To which small group do you belong? Who is part of your spiritual community?” and the answer is almost always that the person has no family nearby, has no small group, and has no spiritual community because a Christ-centered community provides for its people!
Then Nebuchadnezzar created a 90-ft statue and commanded that all his people bow down to the image or be thrown into the fire. When the music played, signaling the time to bow down to the statue, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bow down. When it was reported to the king, he confronted the three men in a fury to reason with them and give his command again. But they refused to bow to the idol once more:
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18
These three friends were able to stand up to the king because they stood together in God’s peace. They knew, for a good outcome or a bad outcome, that their God was true and faithful, and they refused to cast Him aside.
Nebuchadnezzar did have them thrown in the fire, and he was so furious that he ordered it seven times hotter than usual so that it burned even the soldiers who threw them in, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not burned. In fact, they were seen by Nebuchadnezzar in the midst of the flames, along with a fourth man, who looked like “the Son of God.”
Pastor Marcus reminded us that God’s Son Jesus is with us through our fires. When we honor Him, He honors us.
Marcus also compared Christ-centered community to a fire. When all the pieces of wood are together, they are sheltered from the wind and they stay heated, allowing the fire to continue burning. But when one log is pulled away from the fire and set separated to the side, it starts to cool off and it loses its effectiveness. Its flame extinguishes long before the flame of the logs that remain together. The enemy longs to separate and divide us, but in a community, we find God’s power, provision, and peace. Who is your Christian community today? Thank God for providing these brothers and sisters. And if you are lacking such community, it’s time to reach out and surround yourself with Christ-followers who can support and encourage you!