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Explore: Draw the line

• The Explore the Bible lesson for July 27 focuses on Daniel 1:3-6, 8-9, 11-21.

The only people who change the world are those who stay true to their own convictions. Their convictions are not up for sale to the highest moral bidder.

They stay true to those convictions no matter how well or poorly others receive them. Those who do not stay true to their own convictions may well find themselves feeling like a ball on a pool table, always at the mercy of what strikes them next and only going in the direction others push them.

People who stay true to their convictions become anchors in their world. They tend to be the kind others follow because people are looking for strength and hope they can’t find in themselves.

Weight each choice

People of conviction tend to see beyond the opportunity of the moment. They weigh each choice in light of how it will affect future choices and opportunities, of how their character will be measured when others see the consequences of their choices.

Daniel was that kind of person. He had convictions driven by a deep faith in God that drove him when all the winds of adversity kept trying to push him in the other direction. His convictions were so deep he was willing to take huge risks that flew in the face of conventional wisdom.

The text for today contains one of the most inspiring stories of the Old Testament. Many of us probably remember it from our earliest years of childhood. That’s because Daniel was held up to us as an example of the kind of person we could be if our faith was set in Christ and Christ alone.

We may remember this story, too, because it’s the kind of biblical story that spoke to us as children but can also grow old with us. There is hardly a passage of time or stage of life in which the principles in this story don’t have profound meaning. Is there ever a season of life in which our convictions won’t be tested?

Daniel's challenge

Even though this Old Testament story contains many cultural and religious overtones with which we are not familiar, it’s a story that could be lifted out of nearly any day’s headlines. In what we now call the Middle East, one nation conquered another, plundered its resources and took captive many of its people.

When the king of Babylon overtook Jerusalem, he not only ransacked its most valuable possessions, but also took advantage of this opportunity to make its people his from the inside out. He set in motion a long-range plan to indoctrinate them in Babylonian ways. If he could change the leadership, he certainly could change this land into his own.

Daniel was one of several the king chose for this indoctrination. Daniel had little choice but to go along—up to a point. When the king instructed these young men to be trained, in part, by eating foods that violated Daniel’s spiritual values, Daniel declined. Daniel drew the line.

Then, Daniel went further. He asked the Babylonian leadership to put him and his colleagues to the test. They’d follow their own convictions and come out ahead, he challenged them to see. Sure enough, in time, Daniel became a leader among the Babylonians, but only because, when he had a cheaper opportunity and easier way, he stayed true to his God and became the man even the king turned for advice and counsel.

Louis Zamperini's test

Louis Zamperini recently died at age 97. His World War II prisoner-of-war experiences are captured in the book, Unbroken. It’s a remarkable story of what happens to a man, those around him and even his nation when one man stays true to his convictions.

Zamperini survived more than 40 days adrift at sea only to be captured, tortured and imprisoned by the Japanese. For more than two years, he languished, aware all the time that not even his family knew whether he was alive or dead.

Once, he was given the chance to have a life of luxury, all the food he wanted and freedom from torture. All he had to do to earn all this was read propaganda over the radio for his Japanese captors.

Zamperini turned down the offer. In response, he was beaten all the more cruelly and thrown back in prison. Years later, returning to the faith of his childhood, his courage became legend because he refused to give up his patriotic convictions when it would have been easier to do so. God also used him to show what can happen when one person chooses to be faithful even to the point of forgiving those who tortured him.

Before this week is out, we all will have our convictions put to the test. Yet, the truest test of our character will be revealed by the places we choose to draw the line and stay true to our God. Our greatest opportunity for witness will come, not when all is well, but when our character is tested and proven.

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