Most of us have gone through a phase where we wanted to lose weight. We’ve tried plenty of methods, working out, not eating after a certain time, better nights’ sleep, several little meals versus breakfast/lunch/dinner, whatever the latest fad is, right? But ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much we change everything about our lives, if we don’t alter what we eat, as one of my informal Facebook surveys proved.
When asked for weight loss tips, several of my friends focused in on the number of grams of sugar they consumed per day.
Some held onto the tried and true exercise programs, or Weight Watchers, or a glass of water before every meal.
The ingesting or the intake was the thing!
What we eat impacts our ability to lose weight. We can change all the other variables, and if we don’t change what we consume, it really doesn’t matter. It’s a lesson many of us have learned by looking down at our guts and our growing clothes sizes, but it’s one that Daniel understood as a young man, imprisoned in Babylon.
Now, maybe Daniel was smarter than many adults, or maybe his perspective on the world was sharpened by his being kidnapped at such a young age, and being thrust into a strange culture. In Daniel 1, we know that he was dragged to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar’s righthand man, Ashpenaz, along with all of the young men who were deemed to be all of the young, male royalty, who were “without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.”
King Nebuchadnezzar has snagged the best-of-the-best that Israel had to offer. The pretty kids, the skilled kids, the people that he could use because they were brimming with potential. And Ashpenaz was supposed to brainwash them, to lure them in with the finest foods and to teach them all about how to be a Babylonian. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t plan on just capturing other countries. He wanted to assimilate them, until no one could remember that they were anything other than Babylonian.
We’re told that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were chosen, and renamed Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Their assimilation, their discipleship, their removal of all things Jewish was intended to be thorough, complete, and final.
But in 1:8, it says that “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.” How often does it come down to one person? One person who is willing to make a tough call, to follow what he or she knows to be true, to be bold and courageous in the midst of a sea of adversity like Abraham or Joshua. One person to say yes to God like Mary. and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.
It says that God honored Daniel’s faith and softened the heart of his jailer, Ashpenaz, but Ashpenaz still had to deal with his own pain and fear. The Babylonian heard something in Daniel’s plea that made sense, that defied the ways that he’d been expected to act. But he was still afraid.
So Daniel, a teenager remember, but maybe it has to be a teenager, someone brave and willing to play fast and loose with the rules, even in captivity, says, “give us ten days to try it our way.” He proposes a ten-day experiment, the compare and contrast, the my way versus your way test.
And at the end of ten days, Daniel’s crew of Four Musketeers was healthier and stronger than those who ate the rich food of the palace. And the outcome was so stark, so obvious, that Ashpenaz took away all of the rich food of the king and substituted it with the vegetables that Daniel had proposed.
Were the four men sent back to their homes? No. Were they freed from slavery? No. Were their instant troubles alleviated? No.
Their obedience was rewarded though. “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning,” and their responsibility, their stature, rose. They had stood together against something they knew wasn’t right, and they had survived. They had rejected the fat, the poison, the dilution of their physical selves because it would dishonor their beliefs, and God had rewarded that.
Sounds like a perfect segue to “our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit,” right? I could promote Jenny Craig For Jesus or Weight Watchers and Ye Holy Ones or South Beach of Galilee Diet. But instead, I think it’s fascinating to focus in one aspect of this, and shocking enough, it’s not the food.
Daniel rejects the idea of taking in anything that would weaken his spiritual being.
The food is just the physical thing we recognize, but Daniel is rejecting being assimilated into something less than who God wants him to be. The new name, the new language, the new beliefs, the new everything.
Daniel knows who God is and he rests in that. He’ll pass on the extra servings of everything else. He’s turning all of the bad stuff aside… “thanks but no thanks on the wine.”
And I wonder how much of the seemingly insignificant things we “allow” for are the beginning of the slippery slope. Where do you or I draw the line on staying true to following Jesus?
Do we curb our tongues in vocabulary, or in the way we speak of and to others?
Do we consider what we read about, watch on television and in the movies, listen to on the radio or on our iPods?
Do we reject the stories, jokes, gossip, or general meanness that circles around us at work or at home or with our friends?
Are we willing to take a stand on whatever front could be the most dangerous to us, and recognize that we are meant for something greater than this? That God doesn’t want our minds, our bodies, our souls defiled by the junk that the world tells us is okay? That God wants our undivided attention and love, that’s decluttered of junk, food or otherwise?
I pray that this week that you will have the faith of Daniel, to reject those “foods” the world tries to feed you, and stick to the diet of God’s truth, love, and grace. I’m betting it won’t take you a ten-day trial period to see the difference.
This sermon is for the Stand service at 9 a.m. at 11607 S. Crater Road in Prince George, Va.