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Humility: Remembering Who's In Charge
02/03/2008
Scripture: Daniel 4: 1-37
Track 5 of 11 in the Living Lives That Leave People Speechless series
Running time: 30 minutes, 20 seconds.


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"Humility: Remembering Who's In Charge"
Daniel 4
February 3, 2008

Now what? That is the intention, isn't it? We call you to serve, but we don't want you to make a big deal out of it. We really press the idea that God deserves your very best and that you ought to give it in some way that honors him and yet not call undue attention to yourself.

Now, I don't know if you know what those little folks up there on the screen are? That's about 800 little people. There are some red ones up there, somewhat just over 220 of them. That's the number of people that it took to get ready for today. 220 people or more were involved either this morning or leading up to today to get us ready to have church today. They have given themselves to the act of service in order for us to be able to come together and to worship in the way that we want to honor God. They don't do anything that's going to call attention to themselves. You're not going to know who their names are, you won't recognize that they are the ones who did it, but if it weren't for them doing what they did either this week or this morning, we wouldn't be doing what we are doing right now.

It's a remarkable thing to be involved in the service of the king, but it's also very easy in the midst of that to get yourself in the wrong place where you are seeing the wrong person at the center of things. That was the problem Nebuchadnezzar was having in Daniel Chapter 4, getting himself in the wrong place. I want to come to Nebuchadnezzar's story. It's another one of those dreams that he has. We are in Daniel Chapter 4.

Now, there is a good reason why Nebuchadnezzar would feel the way he does about himself. I mean, after all, we have now come about 30 years, a long time since Chapter 3. Things are positive. They are prosperous. There is peace in the kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar has a dominion that rules over the entire known world, and he has no essential enemies that can do anything about him. He has established himself in a city that is fortressed by walls that the archeologists have discovered are as much as feet wide at the base, a series of pairs of walls and then a moat and then another pair of walls. The outside wall is 11 feet thick. The next wall is 22 feet thick.

Herodotus the historian, I suspect, was exaggerating a little when he said that the walls were 330 feet high. That would be half the size of the arch. Probably a bit much. But the chances are that those walls were close to 40 feet in height. We know the gates were, because we've excavated the gate. This is a city virtually impenetrable by the enemy, with one of the seven wonders of the ancient world right at its heart.

Nebuchadnezzar had married a wife from another country, and she missed home. She liked mountains and trees, and, frankly, she didn't like the heat in Iraq. So he built her a garden. In fact, he built a kind of garden that became one of the seven wonders of the world. If you can imagine, and this is what we think we have found at least, the archeologists have discovered the junipers that they believe are the celebers of the hanging gardens. So imagine a room the width of this one that extends from the front wall all they way to the opening in the foyer out near the doors. Layer it like a pyramid, the ziggurat kind with layers, tall enough that it can be seen from all over that area over the height of the wall, covered with trees and lush plants, and then design it in such a way that when you water it nothing leaks. The slaves would be down in the cellar turning wheels which would drag buckets through the Euphrates River, haul the water to the top of the hanging gardens, which would then run down over the garden, water the garden, and keep it water cooled so that she could have a quiet, pleasant chamber in the summer.

And Nebuchadnezzar had built all that. In fact, when he erected the Ishtar gate, a gate 40 feet high and 32 feet wide, covered in this beautiful blue stonework, embedded in it were images of bowls and dragons, and at the dedicatory speech this is what Nebuchadnezzar is reported to have said. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, the faithful prince, appointed by the will of Marduk, the highest of princely princes, beloved of Nibiru, who has learned to embrace wisdom, who fathomed their divine being and reveres their majesty, the untiring governor who takes always to heart the care of the cults and is constantly concerned with the well-being of Babylon, the wise, the humble, the caretaker, the first born of Nabopolassar, the king of Babylon.

I pulled down these gates and laid their foundations at a water table with asphalt and bricks and made them of bricks of blue stone on which wonderful bowls and dragons were depicted. I covered their roofs by laying majestic cedars lengthwise over them. I hung doors of cedar adorned with bronze at the gate openings. I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and adorned them with luxurious splendor so that people might gaze on them in wonder. Do you hear all of those pronouns in there? I. I. I.

Nebuchadnezzar struggled with the issue of being an arrogant man. And like in Chapter 2 he has another dream. Only this dream in Chapter 4 is terrifying, absolutely terrifying. So much so that he doesn't even bother to try to have the people who can interpret dreams tell him to dream. He just wants to go straight to the answer. Tell me what this means. And, of course, when his own magicians can't, he turns to Daniel, and Daniel interprets the dream.

We are going to pick the dream up in Daniel Chapter 4, Verse 19 because Daniel is essentially going to rehearse the dream and then give its explanation. Daniel Chapter 4, Verse 19. "Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, 'Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.' Belteshazzar answered, 'My Lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries. The tree you saw which grew large and strong with its top touching the sky visible to the whole earth with abundant leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beasts of the field, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air, you, oh king, are that tree. You have become great and strong. Your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to the distant parts of the earth.'" Nebuchadnezzar has a dream about this huge tree. It's not unlike the dream he has already had of the pillar with the head of gold or the statue that he has erected in Chapter 3 where there is this large -foot solid gold statue of himself. He has this sense of being huge, of being important, and that dream confirms it. He is, in fact, the tree that has made it possible for all of the nations to have peace and to have prosperity. But that's not all the dream.

Verse 23 Daniel says, "You, oh king, saw a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump bound with iron and bronze in the brass of the field while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven. Let him live like wild animals until seven times pass by for him."

Daniel comes back to the dream to remind Nebuchadnezzar that something of incredible distress is about to happen. The tree is going to get cut down. And then we have this interesting shift in the text because we are no longer talking about the inanimate tree. The text now shifts to a personal pronoun, and he will spend his time out in the fields for seven periods. Most people think it to be years. And while he is out there here is the description of what's going to happen to him once this has occurred. We are going to cut this tree down. It's going to be drenched with the dew of heaven. He is going to live like a wild animal until seven times passes.

Verse 24, "This is the interpretation and this is the decree the most high has issued against my Lord, the king. You will be driven away from people, live with wild animals. You will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the most high is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that heaven rules. Therefore, oh, king -- "

Now, there is the threat of the vision. Listen to Daniel's plea to Nebuchadnezzar. "Oh king, be pleased to accept my advice. Renounce your sins by doing what is right and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue." Daniel said there is a way to avoid what's about to happen. There is a way for you not to suffer this demise, and apparently, at least I think this would be true, Nebuchadnezzar must have listened, at least for a little while, because the very next thing you hear is 12 months later.

If you look down in Verse Number 28 and 29. "All this happened," it says, "to king Nebuchadnezzar 12 months later." So a year passes. And listen to what happens. "The king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. He said, 'Is not this the great Babylon that I have built as the royal residence by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?'" Do you hear it? Do you hear the arrogance and the pride. Is this not the city that I built by my power and for my glory?

Listen to the text. "'The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven. This is what was decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar. Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with wild animals. You will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for 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 people. He ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched and the prophecy was fulfilled."

Pride is a powerful thing, and arrogance will always get you in trouble. What we want to do this morning is just take a look at some of the consequences of that kind of arrogant pride and to look at its flip side and ask ourselves, what are the effects of humility in the life of a person? Because it seems too me that it's extremely important for us to understand that there is a -- there is a danger in being arrogant. There is a danger in pride. Most of us are familiar with the text that was shown in the preservice slides. Pride comes before a fall. Rest assured that arrogance will have its ultimate end. It will be to your demise.

In this same region of the country, some almost years after Nebuchadnezzar, you might have read about this. This comes from a Newsweek magazine in December of 2003. You may even have a strong mental picture of this. In a part of the world where pride and dignity mean everything, the images were clearly intended to shame. A nameless doctor or medical technician wearing rubber gloves was seen closely examining the man's hair, perhaps looking for vermin. Prodded with a tongue depressor, the man opened his mouth. The doctor peered at the pink flesh of his throat and scraped off a few cells for DNA identification. Then the world saw the man's face -- haggard, defeated, meek, and weak.

The glorious leader, direct descendent of the prophet, the lion of Babylon, the father of the two lion cubs, the anointed one, the successor of Nebuchadnezzar, the modern Saladin of Islam had been brought low, forced to bow down, to contemplate his fate while he was waiting to stand trial. Some of you remember the television pictures of Saddam Hussein, the purported son of Nebuchadnezzar going through the same fate as his predecessor.

Humility is the only antidote to pride, and pride has its consequences. One of the consequences of pride is that we forget the foundation upon which we are built. We forget that we didn't get where we are by our own strength and our own power. We forget that our life is built around the foundational principle that God is ultimately in charge of our life.

I don't know if this is a true story or not. Those of you who work in construction can decide whether or not it actually depicts what could be real. But the story is told of a construction site where there was a young man who was strong and felt quite proud of it. In fact, he would come to work virtually everyday challenging the rest of the crew with his strength. He was stronger than anybody else there. And particularly prodding an old man who worked on the construction site.

Finally, the old guy got tired of it. He said, I'm going to bet you a week's wages that I can wheel something in that wheelbarrow to that wall over there that you can't wheel back. And the young guy said, you're on. The old guy got the wheelbarrow and said, get in.

We didn't get where we are by our own strengths, and the constant reminder that we are not self-made people is incredibly important. Whatever it is that you bring to the table in the way of gifts and abilities were not yours. They were God given to you, and you are to exercise them for Him not for your own benefit. Just simply remember the fundamental principles that our lives are not built on us.

I don't know if you saw this in the paper yesterday. The Herald-Whig is carrying this column now on Saturdays called Your Turn. It featured our own Mike Nobis yesterday. Mike, I got to tell you, most of these answers are really good. That one about the Cubs, sorry. I just want you to hear this. Here is the question. Other than your wedding day and the birth of your children, what was your proudest moment? Watching my children give their lives to Christ and make a ministry an important part of their life.

Hear this one. What's the most useful piece of advice you ever received? You can never out give God. That advice was passed onto me by one of my college professors. And then finish this line, if I have learned anything at all, it's? Here is what he wrote. To put God first in all I do. Do you hear it? That deep fundamental principle that says our lives are not built on us. They are not built on who we are or what we can do. We find the source of our strength and the source of our abilities not in ourselves but in the God who gave them.

One of the consequences of pride is that we ultimately forget our foundation, but at the same time we often forget our responsibility. It's not just that we have this foundation that's been built on our life upon what God has done for us, but we have been given these things in order to use them for somebody else. The things is that pride leads us to forget that we have been blessed to be a blessing. The consequence of our pride is that we stop looking out for other people and we start thinking only of ourself as if the universe revolved around us. And from the beginning of the bible story, Genesis Chapter 12, we were blessed to be a blessing.

We were never given what we have to use for ourselves. We've been given what we've been given, whether it's our personality and our character and our ability or our resources and our finances, we have been given that so that we can use it for others. We have been blessed to bless, never to be selfish with. And arrogance makes us think that we are the center of this universe and all of this stuff is for us. And it was never intended for us. It was always intended to be used for someone.

We often as a consequence of our pride simply forget the fundamental need that we have for God. We are who we are because we've been made in God's image. Anything that is good in you is not inherent in you. It is because you have the vestiges of God in you as his creation. But when life begins to treat you well, you sometimes forget that you even need God in the midst of stuff.

Back in 2000 an Arizona company ran a survey of CEO's. These are corporate leaders with a net worth of at least a million dollars, not counting the house that they live in. They were asked what they credited with their success. Here is what they said. 99 percent of them said that they succeeded because of hard work. 97 percent said they succeeded because of intelligence and good sense. 83 percent because they had a higher than average IQ. 62 percent said because they were the best at everything. 32 percent said they succeeded because of luck. Do you notice that someone is missing in the list? That is what arrogance will do for you. It will make you think you can do this on your own, that you are at the center of everything.

Humility, on the other hand, is the reverse of that. Please hear this now. Humility is not self-denigration. Humility is not telling us that you are bad. Humility is not putting yourself down, telling us all of your faults. Humility is recognizing who you are through the eyes of God, that you have enormous value, that you are a person made in God's image, but that you have your own weaknesses and you cannot do this by yourself. It's to recognize you for who you are, someone that God has created and given great value to, but someone who needs to recognize that outside of God life is pretty shallow.

See, humility, humility teaches me to renounce myself. Did you notice that in Verse 27? It is so critical that you understand what it is that Daniel is trying to get Nebuchadnezzar to see. Verse Number 27 ought to be marked in your bible. "King, be pleased to accept my advice. Renounce your sins since by doing what's right." Humility recognizes that I am a sinner, that in myself that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to practice self- gratification. I'm going to do anything that makes me feel good.

Now, the opposite of that is not self-denigration. The opposite of that is self-denial. It's to do exactly what Luke said. Take up your cross how often? Daily. To just simply die to yourself everyday, to recognize that in you is the need for God, and sin has to be renounced.

But it goes further than that. Do you notice also in verse number 27 after he says, "Renounce your sins by doing what is right," he says, "Renounce your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed." Some of you wonder why we are pushing so hard on the Inside/Out stuff. It's because of this. Because we should never forget the oppressed. We should never forget those who are less fortunate than we are. Arrogance makes us feel as if the world revolves around us. Humility says there is a world out there that is not as well off as we are, and we have something we can do about it, and we ought to do something about it.

Not that we can solve every problem in Quincy, not that we can solve every problem in Adams County, but so that we can solve the problems of Madison Park. And that problem is in here because we often forget how blessed we have become and that when everything revolves around us we lose sight of that which is most important to God, a world that is hurting. And, no, we cannot solve every problem, but we will see massive changes when we begin to take seriously ministering to people who are hurting, and the passive change will not be what occurs out there. The massive change will be what occurs right here inside of us, and we will begin to think and feel more like Christ who never saw a person without seeing their need and the desire to help meet that need.

And so we push you to try to help you understand that God has blessed us so incredibly that we need to turn around and pour that blessing out in some way. You see, the effect of humility is not only that you renounce that part of your life which is merely self-gratifying, not merely that you tend to show concern for others, but it recognizes who is really in charge here.

None of us can miss the point of this particular little saying. This came out from one of the officials of the Salvation Army. He said, the ax cannot boast of the trees that it has cut down. It can do nothing but for the woodsman. He made it. He sharpened it. He used it. The moment he throws it aside it becomes only old iron. Do you hear it? Outside of what God does in and through us we have absolutely nothing to bring to the table, because what happens in humility is the reminder that this is not about us. It's about God.

The one thing we learn from Daniel is this. There is a God. We are not him. Come back to the text. Look at it again. See it. Because in the dream that Nebuchadnezzar has you begin to see this running theme all the way through the book of Daniel. Come to Verse 17, the end of the dream. "The decision is announced by messengers. The holy ones declare their verdict so that the living may know that the most high is sovereign over the kingdoms of men, and he gives them to anyone he wishes and he sets over them the lowliest of man." Do you hear Daniel's lesson? Do you hear what Nebuchadnezzar is supposed to hear? Do you understand what we are supposed to hear when we read this book? God is ultimately sovereign over the nation and over life.

It shows up again later in the Chapter, verse number 34. When you come to the other end of the dream, here is Nebuchadnezzar's response. After the seven periods have passed "at the end of that time I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eye toward heaven. My sanity was restored. 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 earth. No one can hold back his hand or to say to him, what have you done?"

Humility reminds you that God is ultimately in charge of everything. What we have been trying to get you to see, trying to help you understand looking at the book of Daniel is that we have been called to live lives that leave people speechless, that arrest their attention. Humility is one of those characteristics in the life of a person that will cause people to sit up and take notice and want to know what is there about you that makes you that way. You see, it's a very difficult thing to elevate yourself and God at the same time. You cannot call attention to you and him in the same breath. The challenge of Daniel is to say, live your life in such a way that whatever it is that you do it is God who gets the attention and the glory.

A preacher from Chicago tells a story of when he was a student at Moody Bible Institute down on Rush and Oak Street. He used to walk around the corner on his way to school, and there was a shoe shiner there. His name was Shoe. This guy used to walk by everyday, and Shoe would be set up on the sidewalk. He would have his chair and his shoe shine equipment, and he would give shoe shines for men on their way downtown to work in Chicago.

He said, one day I was coming around the corner, and there was Shoe, and a big stretch limo pulled up. He said, a guy got out, dressed in a suit that I didn't even know how to calculate, and he said he walked over to Shoe and he put Shoe in the seat and he got down and he polished Shoes' shoes. And he handed him a hundred dollar tip and he got back in his limo and he drove away. And he said, I don't remember a thing I learned in class that day, but I will never forget the image of that humble act of service.

Our call to you is so simple. Just live your life in such a way that people want to know why are you like that. And the only way that can ever happen is when Jesus Christ is the center of your life. When you don't revolve around you, you revolve around Him. When He is in the middle where He belongs, God will make you useful and people will sit up and take notice and want to know what you have that they need. We are inviting you to that, we are challenging you to that, and we are giving you this opportunity to say it, to pray it as a part of this song -- Jesus, be the center of my life. Let's sing that, shall we?