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Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (Daniel 3:29 – “Religious Liberty”)

“Religious Liberty”

Daniel 3:29, “There I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.”

This morning, children of God have varying circumstances, some of which are their own doing, while others are outside of their control. Living in America all my life, I have been blessed by many things that I had no control over bringing to pass nor maintaining. Truly, those of us living in this land have been blessed to live with freedom and liberty that are unknown to countless multitudes of God’s children in other places and at other times. Not the least of these is religious liberty and freedom. There has never been an occasion during the scope of my life that I have worried about being killed or jailed for going to church, preaching, reading my Bible, etc. This great blessing is – unfortunately – underrated by many in this land due to the fact that we have never known anything else. Without any kind of comparison or contrast in our personal lives, we live many days just assuming that this circumstance will continue upon us. There is no promise in Scripture that it is guaranteed. We do not have to worry over our eternal home when this life is over as that has been promised to us unconditionally. (I Thessalonians 5:9-10) However, blessings like religious liberty are contingent upon our steadfastness like many other promises are. (Isaiah 1:19-20)

Sometimes when I read the Bible, I will come across something that reaches out and slaps me and makes me think, “Where was that all those times I have been through here before?” In point of fact, it has been there all the time, but I just saw it. The verse before us is one such example. Though I have studied the contents of Daniel 3 numerous times, this particular thought had escaped me. The context of this lesson is that Daniel’s 3 friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were faithful to the Lord by not bowing down to the image that king Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Due to their obedience, the king had them thrown into a burning fiery furnace for their disobedience to him. The Lord delivered them from the fire, and upon their emergence, the king was dumbfounded about the series of events. He knew they threw 3 in, but he saw a 4th in the person of Jesus Christ. When they came out, they not only were not harmed but did not even have the smell of smoke on them or have a single hair singed. God’s providential deliverance was so manifest that the king makes the decree in our study verse.

Granted, the king was still lacking in his knowledge of God like he was at the end of chapter 2, but he still says something in this verse that is grand to consider. Though Daniel and his 3 friends were promoted to great honour in the land of Babylon, they were still members of a subservient people at this time. The nation of Judah had been delivered into Babylonian captivity for 70 years due to their prolonged disobedience. Some of the captives – like Ezekiel – were regulated to the labour camps, while others – like Jeremiah – were left in the ruins of Judah to keep and dress the land for the king. Daniel’s story tells of life for some of the more well favored captives that were taken into the palace to be counselors to the king amongst his other wise men. This position allowed them the opportunity to serve in faithfulness in a more manifest way leading to more manifest blessings that not only affected themselves but their entire race and nation.

Nebuchadnezzar’s decree did not give the glory to God that his declaration would at the end of chapter 4, but he still uses his authority in a very unusual way. He not only promotes these youths, but he decrees that their God can be worshipped without recrimination. No one that served the Lord God of Israel would have to fear for their wellbeing in worshipping Him. Anyone who gave them grief over their religion stood in jeopardy from the king himself. Their lives would be in danger as well as their whole house being made a ruin. Consider the situation. This nation is captive. They are bound to the law of the Babylonians that ruled over them. Any Jew that tried to live in accord to the heritage of their Jewish worship could be in jeopardy for doing so. Yet, due to the faithfulness of 3 Jewish youths in not participating in idolatry, the roles were reversed. Babylonians would be in danger and peril for speaking against those that they ruled over. Surely this circumstance is rare in the annals of human history. Human history is full of stories of the rulers making the rules for the ones they rule over. This story has one of the rulers setting the rules in favor of those ruled over.

When this lesson reached out and slapped me, it caused me to reflect in great consideration about things to come. Doubtless we in this country see our freedoms and liberties eroding away daily, and without Divine Intervention we will surely see changes in my lifetime that could not be imagined 30-50 years ago. The time may come when my life is in jeopardy for preaching my convictions. It could become a crime against the state to preach “Thus saith the Lord…” However, in my previous considerations, I had always thought that if that day came we would end up being more like John the Baptist than this situation. John the Baptist preached his convictions and lost his head over it. Such could still end up being the case. However, this lesson shows that it does not have to be that way.

This lesson teaches us that if God’s faithful few will remain steadfast in their convictions great things can happen not only for us but others that we know and love. Thousands of Jews were blessed by the efforts of 3. Their efforts granted freedom and liberty that the slaves that Ezekiel ministered unto could probably not imagine would ever come. If I was chained to a rock working from sunup to sundown, I would not expect my masters to give me liberty and freedom for religion or anything else. But, to hear a decree that put my masters’ lives in jeopardy from preventing me from calling upon God would be great mercy in my difficult circumstance. No, I do not know the future, but this lesson shows what could be our case even in the midst of hard times. If we find ourselves in a type of bondage, faithfulness should still remain and abide with us. It blessed Daniel a couple of chapters later in a den of lions. It blessed these three in a burning fiery furnace. However, it blessed so many others as well.

When hard times come, we may be delivered out of them into our abiding home in heaven, or we may be delivered through them as these 3 were. The good news is that deliverance comes either way. They said as much to the king in verses 16-18. They did not know whether they would be delivered from the fire. But they knew 2 things: 1. God was able and 2. They would be delivered – one way or another. If the fire took their lives, they went to heaven where the king could not touch them. If they were taken out of the fire, they were delivered from the king in that his word could not harm them. We should look at the uncertain future the same way. I do not know if I will be delivered from the evils that are coming, but I know that God is able and that I will be delivered one way or another. By remaining steadfast through this knowledge, we may end up blessing ourselves and others with liberty and freedom unimaginable in those difficult circumstances. However, for the time now present, let us spend time in fervent thanksgiving to God that we still have this liberty. He has been so good to us to bless us with it all these years. May His mercy abide with us so that our lives and those of our children and others following after us would have these things and be faithful in them.

In Hope,
Bro Philip

Philip Conley's Morning Thoughts

Morning Thoughts (Daniel 4:36 – “A Right Mind or a Cracked Head?”)

“A Right Mind or a Cracked Head?”

Daniel 4:36, “At the same time my reason returned unto me’ and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.”

This morning, many people “chase their own tails” in their thoughts and actions. The modern world is littered with clich├ęs that do not stand up to the Biblical test. Folks will declare, “I’m just not sure why I’m here and what my purpose is”, “I need to find myself”, “can we really know what truth is”, and “God wants me to be happy.” These and similar sentiments should be quickly abandoned from our mindset as Scripture plainly tells us our duty (Ecclesiastes 12:13), reminds us of who we are in relation to who God is (Romans 9:20-23), what truth is (John 14:6), and that God requires obedience as the goal of our state rather than happiness (Micah 6:8). These statements show rather that man will not think clearly or properly when he is following and worshipping something more than God. We will worship something. That fact is inescapable and undeniable. Man follows and worships something, even if it is himself.

Recently, I heard a minister say something from the pulpit that really grabbed my attention. He said, “Anyone that is not serving God with preeminence in their lives is cracked in the head.” The turn of his phrase really grabbed me and forced me to think about the idea he was talking about. While thinking about it, our study verse came brilliantly into view. The background for our verse is perhaps one of the most unique occurrences in Scriptural record that a man endured. He literally lived, looked, and was treated like a beast. The man is Nebuchadnezzar, and he ruled ancient Babylon. However, after being lifted up in pride, he was driven from men for 7 years while growing claws on his hands, feathers on his back, and eating grass in the field like an ox. What a remarkable circumstance!

During this time, this man was humbled and brought low as no other man (according to revelation) ever had been or has since. At the end of those days, however, he gives perhaps the clearest and most glorious discourse on the sovereignty of God that we have. Nebuchadnezzar’s words in Daniel 4:34-35 are often cited as prooftexts and touchstones of this grand subject. However, Nebuchadnezzar says about himself in Verse 34 that he had “understanding” returned to him, and our verse says that “reason” returned to him again. I think Nebuchadnezzar’s case shows validity to the minister’s statements about being cracked in the head.

When I meet people in life and the subject of God, the Bible, etc. comes up, it is generally easy to tell in a few minutes if a dialogue is desired or not. Some people may bring something up, but they really have no desire to learn or deepen their understanding. Maybe they are picking a fight, or something less sinister in nature. However, the attitude of the conversation shows what they are really after. This is one of the key differences between a debate and an argument. Today’s culture uses the terms interchangeably, but they are distinctly different. Argumentation is laying out the points and evidence to try to arrive at the truth of a subject. Debate is trying to “win the day” by burying your opponent. Dialogues are had through reasonable argumentation, while debates are mostly engaged by “cracked heads.”

What Nebuchadnezzar lost – he says – is reason. Reason may have many connotations, but the one that helps me the most is the combination of knowledge and understanding. To “reason through” something, someone must have knowledge of the subject matter. However, the process requires that understanding be present as well. Understanding is not just knowing the “what” of the matter, but most importantly the “why” of the matter. Therefore, reason gets to the heart of the “what” and the “why” behind it. Someone who fails to admit of the sovereignty of God has lost the ability to truly reason. Someone who fails to admit the fallen depravity of man has lost the ability to reason. Paul informs us in Romans 1 that God, His power, and some of His attributes should be clearly seen by all men from the creation alone. The fact that men can look at the creation and attribute some other means to its existence is utter rebellion and not being in a right mind. Anyone who has had children should be able to discern the depravity of man very quickly. Children come into this world needing to be taught manners, obedience, etc. However, no parent has had to “teach” their children defiance, lying, etc. Those things came naturally to them.

What was Nebuchadnezzar’s state before these 7 years? He thought he had built Babylon himself. (Daniel 4:30). He declared this though previously blessed by God to have his dreams revealed (Chapter 2), see the Son of God in a fiery furnace (Chapter 3), and have his kingdom strengthened by the hands of Daniel and his companions. He had prior experiences with God’s goodness, yet he still worshipped himself rather than the Creator. He worshipped the beauty of his kingdom instead of worshipping the source of true beauty. As a matter of fact, Nebuchadnezzar’s power over the kingdom of Judah was Divine chastisement against them. It was not that Nebuchadnezzar had earned this dominion. God simply blessed him to overcome them because of their transgressions, rather than his righteousness. Did Nebuchadnezzar see this? No. Why? He did not have a right mind due to looking at things through the lens of self rather than the majesty of the Almighty.

Putting this lesson in today’s terms, we see a culture that is driven by self and self-centeredness. I have said often in recent years that we are living in the most openly selfish time. Though different generations through history have had differing root problems, I sincerely believe that the problems of today center on selfish notions. What makes people happy, helps them get what they want, and gain comfort are the preeminent items of the day. A right mind sees self as being far inferior to what God requires and deserves. He has all power. He deserves preeminence in all things.

Consider the root problem for lack of attendance at the house of God, lack of attention to God’s word, or precious little time on bended knee in prayer. Those things are declarations (through action) that “my time” is not important enough for God. Whether we are following our jobs, family, recreation, or something else, it really makes no difference. As Joshua told the children of Israel (Joshua 24), if you pick a god other than God, it really does not matter which one you pick. They all amount to the same thing. The right mind that has reason chooses to elevate God above all else in life no matter the pain or sacrifice that it brings. While I do not expect God to bring people down the way He did to Nebuchadnezzar (though He still can), He has ways of leveling us. Let us try to follow after Him without having to gain a few scars to learn our lesson.

Friends, it is good that we should hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord (Lamentations 3:26). That is a mindset that is not cracked and following its own ways. Just the other day, I had a man tell me, “No matter what you say, it HAS to be this way.” That effectively ended the conversation as one cannot reason through such an obstacle. There are many things in God’s word that my flesh does not enjoy. However, for me to exercise a right mind through sound reasoning and good understanding, I need to be ready to avail myself of all that God would require of me. Why is this so good for us? To answer that question just ponder the answers to these two questions: 1. Who is He? and 2. Who are we? When we really probe the depths of those questions, the answer is unavoidable. The one with everything requires those with nothing of themselves to depend upon and honour Him for what He has already done, is doing, and will yet do for us. Is this right? Absolutely! May our minds and reasoning follow these paths so that we keep ourselves from being cracked in our thinking and actions.

In Hope,
Bro Philip