"Three C's of Christian Witness"#89-35
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 1, 2022
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2022 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Daniel 3:28
There we were, somewhere in Kansas on Interstate 70 headed West. And my dad told me, "Michael, I want you to promise me something. I want you to promise me that you'll read the book of Daniel." My dad was driving our 1991 Dodge Minivan. My mom was in the passenger seat and I was in the back. Early that morning, we had left our home in Missouri and were halfway to Colorado, where my parents would be dropping me off to start basic military training and later college classes at the US Air Force Academy. And of all the last-minute bits of fatherly advice that my dad could give me, this is what he said, "Read the book of Daniel." My dad wanted me to read the old Testament book of Daniel because he thought it would help me be a better witness for Jesus.
Now, at the tender age of 18, I pretty much already knew everything. And I knew that Christians were supposed to be witnesses for Jesus and I knew that I didn't want to be a witness. I didn't even know if I believed in Jesus at the time. Obviously, things have changed since I'm here talking with you about Jesus now. Something that would've been totally cringeworthy for my 18-year-old self to think about, and something that I suppose reveals some of God's sense of humor. I'll share more with you about how things changed for me. But first, let's talk about this book that my dad wanted me to read.
The book of Daniel is mostly about Daniel, but it's also about his three friends. Together, these young Jewish men were forced to leave their homes in the land of Judea, and they were forced to figure out who they were going to be in this foreign land in Babylon, in the absence of their families and their faith traditions. When they get to Babylon, their names are changed. Their Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: names honoring the God of Israel. But now, most people remember them by their Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three men ended up being caught up in events that would become one of the most memorable accounts in the Old Testament. And as I listened to this account, three truths relevant to Christian witnessing emerged for me. Let's call these the three C's of Christian witnessing. They are number one: competence, number two: conversation, and number three: care. Competent, conversational, and caring. That's the kind of witnesses that these three men proved to be in their situation, and that's the sort of witness that my parents were praying that I would become, and that's the sort of witness that Jesus sent to me along the way. So here it is. The account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego recorded in the Bible's book of Daniel 3.
Now King Nebuchadnezzar made a statue of gold, 90 feet high and 9 feet wide. And he set it up in the niche of the wall of the city, in the province of Babylon. Then he summoned the senators, prefects, governors, advisors, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the statue that he had set up. And so the senators, prefects, governors, advisors, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the statue, and they stood before the statue of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the herald loudly proclaimed, "To you, O peoples, nations, men of every language, it is said, when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, liar, strings, harp, drums, and all kinds of music, you will fall down and worship the statue of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a flaming furnace of fire.
Therefore, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, liar, strings, harp, drums, and all kinds of music, people, nations, men of every language fell down worshiping the statue of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Now, at that time, some Babylonian men came forward and accused the men from Judea. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, "Your majesty, may you live forever. You, your majesty, have issued a decree that whoever hears the sound of the horn, flute, liar, strings, harps, drum, and all kinds of music must bow down and worship the statue of gold you have set up. And whoever does not bow down and worship will be thrown into a flaming furnace of fire. But there are some Judean men whom you have said over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, your majesty. Your gods, they do not serve. The statue of gold that you have set up, they do not worship."
Then, Nebuchadnezzar in a furious rage summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these men were brought before the king. And King Nebuchadnezzar said, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, my gods you do not serve, the statue of gold I have set up, you do not worship? Now, when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, liar, strings, harp, pipes, and all kinds of music, if you are ready to bow down and worship the statue I made, very good. But if you will not worship, you will immediately be thrown into a blazing fiery furnace. Then what god will be able to save you from my hand?"
Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king. "O Nebuchadnezzar. We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us, so let Him save us from your hand, your majesty. But even if He does not, we want you to know, your majesty, that we will not serve your gods. And we will not bow down and worship the statue of gold that you have set up."
Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with rage and the expression of his face changed towards Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and he ordered that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. And he commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to throw them in the flaming fiery furnace. And so these men still wearing their robes, turbans, trousers, and tunics were tied up and thrown into the blazing fiery furnace. And the king's command was so urgent and the furnace was so excessively hot that the soldiers who carried them up, the flames of fire killed them. So these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing fiery furnace.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was startled and immediately he stood up and he said to his advisors, "Didn't we throw three men into the fire tied up?" They said, "Certainly, your majesty." He said, "Look, I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound, unharmed, and one of them looks like a son of gods." Then Nebuchadnezzar approached the opening of the blazing furnace and he shouted, "Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, come here!" Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the fire. And the senators, prefects, judges, and royal advisors crowded around them and they saw that the fire had no power over their bodies. The hairs of their head were not even singed; their robes were not scorched; there wasn't even the smell of fire on them. And Nebuchadnezzar said, "Blessed it be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who sent His angel and saved His servants who trusted in Him," and he changed the king's command. "They were willing to lay down their lives rather than worship or serve any other god, except their own God. Therefore, I decree that the peoples of any nation or language that say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be cut into pieces and their houses turned into piles of rubble because no other God can save in this way." And then Nebuchadnezzar promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
God made these three men His witnesses, and by Baptism into the death and new life of Jesus, all Christians are called to be God's witnesses. Jesus told His first followers, "Go and make disciples of all the nations." "All the nations," He said. All people are now called to follow Jesus as His disciples, as His students, to become His sisters and brothers, adopted children of God, His Father. Not because Jesus needs us like a controlling dictator demanding loyalty. Not because Jesus needs us like an insecure celebrity craving attention. Not because He needs anything from us, but because we need Him. He's our Creator. And as sure as we need light and oxygen, companionship and community, beauty and purpose, we all need Jesus.
The Bible teaches that everyone needs Jesus. And that's why every Christian is called to be a witness. And that's why as I was leaving home, my dad wanted me to read the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel can help Christians today be better witnesses with those three C's of witnessing. You remember them? Number one: competence, number two: conversation, and number three: care. First, competence. Competence commends your confession of faith. Daniel 1 tells us how Daniel and his three friends became competent. They studied and learned the language and the literature of the Babylonians. The king, and those who were in charge noticed their competence and promoted them. They knew their job; they did their job. And when Christians today are competent in their various callings, whatever those may be, that commends their confession of faith. They become reliable witnesses. They gain a hearing for God's Word because competence commends your confession.
When I was 18 years old, getting ready to go into the military, as I mentioned, I wasn't even sure if I believed in Jesus. And I certainly wasn't interested in being a witness for Him. So you know what Jesus did for me? He sent me witnesses. He sent me a competent witness in the person of Cadet Second-Class Mike McGuire. Mike McGuire was a cadet at the Air Force Academy who was two years ahead of me. He was a junior when I was a freshman. He had a leadership position in our cadet squadron. He stood tall, wore a sharp uniform. He knew his job and he did his job. He was also the captain of the Air Force Academy hockey team. My first impression of Mike McGuire was positive, but then I saw him do something that I thought was utterly cringeworthy. On Tuesday evenings, Mike McGuire would walk through the hallways of the dorm, knock on doors, and invite everyone he saw to come to his room for Bible study.
See? Mike loved Jesus. He wasn't ashamed of it, and he was always ready to share the hope that he had. For my first year at the Air Force Academy, whenever Mike McGuire knocked on my door and invited me to Bible study, I said, "No thanks." But eventually he wore me down. And the second year, I started attending. You know why I went? Because in time Mike McGuire proved to be someone I trusted and respected, and he was always ready to share the hope that he had. He was a competent witness for Jesus. The first C of Christian witnessing is competence.
The second C is conversation. Words that are keyed to the right context can unlock a conversation. Think of your words like a key. What happens if you get the right door, but you have the wrong key? You can't get in. And it's like that with our witness. If our words of witness aren't keyed to the context, we won't be able to get into further conversations. And without conversation, faith won't take root and grow.
For example, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren't publicly protesting Babylonian religion. They weren't hurling gospel grenades at passersby. They weren't spraying people down with Bible verses from street corners. That key wouldn't have fit the context. But at the right moment, in the right place, to the right person, with the God who is with us in the fire, their words of witness unlocked a conversation.
Toward the end of my first year at the Air Force Academy, while I was still ignoring Mike McGuire's invitations to Bible study, Jesus sent me a conversational witness. Her name was Amy Frieling. Amy and I had attended the same school in third, fourth, and fifth grade, but when my dad got another military assignment and our family moved away, our paths diverged, both geographically and spiritually. During high school I drifted from the faith. I didn't want anything to do with Jesus, but Amy's faith grew deeper. And when I met her again eight years later, she spoke of God as though He were real, living and active, involved in her life.
And when she spoke of God, and what He was teaching her and showing her as she read the Bible, she brought this into our conversations naturally. Not as though she were trying to convince me or shame me or prove something to me. She spoke of God as though she would speak of others she loved: her friends, her favorite professor, or her father. God used her words of witness to open the door of faith for me. One that I had been trying to keep closed. And I found myself wanting to know the God that Amy knew who now, by the way is Amy Zeigler. my beloved bride of over 20 years. Three C's for Christian witnessing are competence, conversation, and care. Care for your conversation partner reflects Christ's compassion. That's what I hear in these young men's words to King Nebuchadnezzar. It's care. See? They were willing to sacrifice their lives, not just so that they could keep their conscience clean. There's more to it than that. They said, "We want you to know, your majesty, we want you to know who we know. We want you to know the one, true God, the God of Israel, who is gracious in compassion, and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We want you to know the God who loves you and wants to start a conversation with you."
That's why we witness. That's why my father other gave me that bit of advice as I was leaving home because he and my mom care for me. And they showed it, day after day, in a million small ways, in the context of a Christian household, during those years that I wandered from the faith, rebelling, trying to find myself, they showed me the tough, forgiving, uncompromising, unwavering love that reflects Christ's compassion.
See? Jesus was willing to lay down His life, not just to keep His conscious clean, but so that you and I would know His Father who loves us, who wants to eternally converse with us, with you, with me, and to all whom He sends us as His witnesses.
If you're willing, I invite you to pray with me.
Lord Jesus. I praise you for your impeccable competence, Your wisdom, Your faithfulness to Your human calling. I thank You for Your words key to the context, Your skilled conversation with the woman at the well, Your confrontation with those who trusted in themselves and were confident in their own righteousness, Your patient exchange of words with the two on the road to Emmaus. Most of all, I thank You for Your compassion for me, for us—sinners, lost sheep. Let all that we do and say reflect Your love and Your truth because You live and You reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God now and forever. Amen.
No Reflections for May 1, 2022
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"The King of Love My Shepherd Is" From With High Delight by the Children's Choirs of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Ft. Wayne, Indiana (© 2002 St. Paul's Lutheran Church)
"With High Delight Let Us Unite" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)