Last week, Pastor Curt kicked off the first part of our series: “Courage in Chaos.”
In this entry, we want to take the time to explore the four cultural creeds you need to know to survive in today's culture. To better understand the context of the message, we encourage you to read the first six chapters of Daniel. Here, we want to dig a bit deeper, analyzing Daniel's responses to culture, as well as ask you a number of questions to consider for practical applications in your own life.
The first cultural creed we discussed is: you are an alien in a foreign culture.
“I'm not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do.” (John 17:15-16)
It was not an election that sent the four boys to Babylon. They did not choose to be there. They were prisoners of war, captured and taken to a foreign country to be trained as advisers, as ordered by the king. They had no control over their circumstances.
Many times in life, we will find ourselves in circumstances, some we may not even deserve, but how we choose to respond to them is what will ultimately decide what God is able to do through us.
We will wake up to a world of chaos: elections holding livelihoods in the balance, wars and crimes shattering societies, racial and social issues driving wedges between countrymen, environmental and geological disasters that destroy homes and lives, legislature that goes against our Christian beliefs,and people constantly pressuring us to abandon our values in favor of the world's.
When culture goes against our beliefs, it is easy to become defensive, or hostile to authority. But as we see in the book of Daniel, hostility and defensiveness are not the correct responses.
When they were told to eat food that violated their Jewish values, rather than refusing their orders, the boys asked for permission, and worked with their authorities to find a middle ground.
But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods... “Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water,” Daniel said. “At the end of the ten days, see how we look compared to the other young men who are eating the king's food. Then make your decision in light of what you see” (1: 8-13).
When they were to be killed along with the wise men, they requested more time to interpret Nebuchadnezzar's dream.
When Arioch, the commander of the king's guard came to kill them, Daniel handled the situation with wisdom and discretion. He asked Arioch, “Why has the king issued such a harsh decree?” So Arioch told him all that had happened. Daniel went at once to see the king and requested more time to tell the king what the dream meant (2: 14-16).
The only times they did not obey their authorities were when they were asked to disobey God's greater authority; even when this was the case, the four always showed a respect for those in power.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn't, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up” (3: 16-18).
God doesn't want us to make him second to worldly authority, but our response to such authority should always be respectful and in line with God's standards.
And thus, we see how to respond to unwanted circumstances, but what happens when the circumstances go against our values, and yet, are appealing to us?
If we are being honest, despite being aliens to Babylonian culture, Daniel and his friends got a pretty sweet deal.
“Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he [Nebuchadnezzar] said, “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace.” The king assigned them a daily ration of foodand wine from his own kitchens. (Daniel 1: 4-5)
The four young men had a lot going for them. They were handsome, intelligent, and wise (These were guys like John Rokowski or Curt Demoff). They were hand-picked by the rulers of an empire to serve in advisory positions to the king. They were given status and power, and literally had the option to, “eat like a king.” The perks were considerable. It wouldn't be difficult to embrace their new Babylonian identities. Even their names were changed to make them forget their Jewish heritage.
However, while their circumstances were appealing, they were in contention with God's commandments of them. The four decided on the hard choice: they held on to God's standards, even when doing so meant they would face certain death. As a result, God blessed them, and even saved their lives on more than one occasion.
As Pastor Curt said last week, culture will try to do two things: It will try to recruit you, and it will try to redefine you. And whether our circumstances are appealing or unwanted, we ultimately have the choice of how to respond to them.
The second cultural creed we must remember is: culture is hostile to God.
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? 'A slave is not greater than the master.' Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” (John 15:18-20)
Because we are followers of God, it is difficult to watch as our values are attacked by culture, but this cultural creed offers us some relief. Because culture is hostile to God, it takes the responsibility off us. It's not our job to convict the world of sin. Its God's. We tend to feel that we must defend God against the world, but in truth, we have it backwards. God defends us from a broken world.
We see this truth many times in Daniel.
*Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. (1: 9)
God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of visions and dreams. (1: 17)
Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him.” (3: 28)
“My God sent his angel to shut the lions' mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight.” (6: 22)
None of these verses said, “The four trained hard to have unusual aptitude understanding literature, and Daniel developed an algorithm for interpreting dreams,” nor did they say, “Daniel worked tirelessly to gain the chief of staff's favor.” They did not say, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego put on fire-proof gel to protect them from the flame,” and they did not say, “Daniel duct taped the lions' mouths shut.”
The verses did not say this because it was not the boys' responsibility to control their circumstances. The four of them did not get out of their troubles through their own power. Their circumstances were beyond their control, but they were not so for God, and He faithfully moved in the background, protecting them, and giving them the skills and abilities they needed to thrive in a foreign culture.
As Christians, we will face persecution based on our beliefs, but that hostility is directed towards God, not us, and therefore, our responsibility is not to defend God, but to let God be our defender.
The final two cultural creeds Pastor Curt discussed were our world is the object of God's redemption, and we can transform the culture around us.
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Because culture is hostile to God, we sometimes think that the world is an enemy of God. But despite its hostility, God loves the world; he loves it so much that he sacrificed his only son as a means of redeeming it.
As such, God does not want us to bow out of the world. It might be hostile to God, and it might challenge our values, but the Word is clear that we are to go into the world instead of hiding from it:
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)
And then he told them, “go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. And the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs. (Mark 16:15, 20)
God does not intend for these passages of his Word to be viewed as an idea or a concept. When he tells us to do something, He actually wants us to do it. We are to be a light and an example, so that our lives draw people in toward God. In order to do this, we actually have to participate.
This is why Pastor Curt has asked us to vote, and to pray for our leaders, whether we wanted them or not. Burying our heads in the sand is neither practical or biblical. But the Word is also very clear about what we should do if we are not received by culture:
But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those peopleto their fate. (Mark 6:11)
We can't force anyone to accept God's standards, but there is a notable difference between tryingand failing, and never attempting at all.
Questions for Discussion:
1.What is your knee-jerk reaction when you find your self in circumstances that you do not deserve, or that challenge your values? How does it compare to Daniel's response?
2.Daniel had the courage to resolve his faith beforehand, determining what hills he was willing to shed blood on. On what hills are you willing to shed blood?
3.Instead of trying to manipulate his circumstances and circumvent authority, Daniel had the courage to test his faith in God by requesting a diet of vegetables, a diet that could only producethe results they saw through God's intervention. In what areas have you tested your faith againstculture? In what areas haven't you?
4.Because of Daniel's faith, God blessed him with influence and authority to leverage against the culture around him. In what ways can you leverage your faith to transform culture?