STAND STRONG, LOVE WELL
One of the biggest challenges we face living as Christians in a post-Christian country is how we can stand strong and love well. How can we hold tightly to the truth of the word of God and look at the world through the lens of Scripture instead of looking at Scripture through the lens of what culture is telling us.
Yet, how can we, at the same time, show that we are a people of love and acceptance, representing a God that loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that no one would perish, but everyone who beliefs might be saved.
AM I GOING TO CHANGE CULTURE, OR IS CULTURE GOING TO CHANGE ME?
Daniel was part of the group of people taken into captivity from Jerusalem which was besieged and destroyed by the Babylonians. He and his buddies were then taken to the royal palace in Babylon where they would have to serve.
Babylon is more than just a place. It is a spirit. Babylon, through the Bible (Genesis to Revelation), has always been a symbol of rebellion against God.
So, Daniel and his three friends are deported to serve at the headquarters of rebellion against God and in every chapter, they are going to be faced with a new dilemma: are we going to bend to the demands of culture, or stand for what we believe and risk our lives?
A dilemma is a situation with two possible choices, and both are undesirable.
Daniel 1:3-6 (NIV)
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men 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. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.
5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. 6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
The Babylonians decided that these guys, the crème of the crop of Judah would be wasted just working away in the fields, no, “we’ll bring them into the palace to serve the king”. But in order to use their brains well, they would first need to be brainwashed.
And what comes out so clearly here is that culture has an agenda. It still does. Culture is not neutral, but it has an agenda to change you to its own purposes. And we need to understand it, in order to respond.
CULTURE HAS AN AGENDA
Culture will try to change your identity
Daniel 1:7 (NIV) The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
Daniel - God is my judge
Belteshazzar - Lady, protect the King
Hananiah - Yahweh has been gracious
Shadrach - I am fearful of God
Mishael - Who is what God is?
Meshach - I am despised, contemptible and humiliated
Azariah - Yahweh has helped
Abednego - Servant of Nebo
The idea behind all these name changes wasn't only to make it easier for the Babylonians to refer to them because they couldn't pronounce Hebrew names. It wasn't even only to dedicate them to new gods, the gods of Babylon. What they were doing was trying to change the way they viewed themselves and their God so that they could lord authority over them.
When culture shifts, we have got to know who we are.
Are you firm in your identity in Christ? I am convinced that when you know that God is your Creator and your heavenly Father that calls you a beloved child – nothing and no one can rob you from His hands.
Culture will try to compromise your standards
Daniel and his friends have to compromise their beliefs to gain the favor of the king. The foods and wine would defile every food-law that they were living under, and on top of that, it was food sacrificed to idols.
The world around us is constantly trying to offer alternatives to God’s standard that seem desirable, but or deceptions.
Quick question to you. How is the fruit described on the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden?
Genesis 3:6 (NIV)
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.
Culture will try to lure you into compromise holding up a promising picture, but hiding the consequences. It seems good – but it is not from God.
Culture will try to lure you into compromise holding up a promising picture, but hiding the consequences.
This is what I see happening to Christianity in the Western World. We are offered an alternative to the truth of God’s Word that is acceptable to the world and according to the logic of this world seems good and desirable – but is luring us away from God.
This is the main lie culture is using to detach us from the truth – “God’s demands are just too high”. But here is the truth – “God didn’t give us instructions for Himself, but for us”.
When culture shifts, we have got to reaffirm our convictions.
They choose to respectfully deny and suggest a test to prove that God’s way is the best way.
Daniel 1:8 (NIV)
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.
Daniel, knowing his identity in God and understanding the consequences of giving in to this temptation respectfully denies the food. Notice that he is not protesting, complaining or judging – he is asking for permission to choose a different route.
Culture will create a confrontation
Daniel and his friends are going to face their first test here in this first chapter. It will be the first of many and the least extreme one. Culture will create moments of confrontation – dilemma’s – where we have to make a choice.
Daniel 1:12-14 (NIV)
“Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water,” Daniel said. 13 “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.” 14 The attendant agreed to Daniel’s suggestion and tested them for ten days.
Now, when you continue reading, you will see that they are passing the test, and at the end of the ten days, they looked better than all their fellows that did eat from the King’s table, and they are allowed to continue. God is blessing their obedience.
When culture shifts, we have got to respond the right way
Our culture is shifting. Europe is no longer a Christian continent – it hasn’t been for a while. Most of the Western World is denying – either through their words or actions – that there is a God. And we are living in a world where we are constantly faced with tests like the ones that Daniel faced.
How will we respond?
Truth without grace is mean
When you choose to stand for truth, but drop love – you are judgmental, arrogant, and just mean. This is an attitude that is costing the church its good reputation left and right.
We cannot drop grace, because without grace, who could ever approach God? We all have been saved by grace – not through our own efforts, so that we wouldn’t boast about it!
Grace without truth is meaningless
Tip the scale to the other side, and you’ve got only grace and acceptance, but no truth. And this is another, very common, response to a shifting culture – to move with it, and accept the lie in the name of love. This is happening a lot in church today.
When we do this, we are basically saying that we know how to love people better than God. We’re saying to Him – your Word is in the way of people getting to know you. We’ll present an incomplete version of it, in the name of love.
Yet, God didn’t give us the Bible for Himself, nor did He sent Jesus – the Word that became flesh for Himself – but He did it for us!
Grace & truth is good medicine
Here’s what I believe is the right approach to this tension. Not to choose either truth or love, not to do 50-50 – because half a truth is still a lie – but 100% TRUTH and 100% LOVE.
John 1:14 (NIV) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus fully embodies both truth and love. They are not opposites and they don’t contradict. It’s love that attracts and welcomes in and doesn’t judge – and then it is truth that leads people to the way everlasting.
Grace invites, truth sets free.
And so when we are faced with culture’s agenda and are forced into confrontation – we need to hold high the truth of God’s Word AND love well the way Jesus loved us when we were still in our sin.
IN THE WORLD, NOT OF THE WORLD
Before Jesus was arrested and crucified a day later, he prayed earnestly to God about how His followers would deal with this tension. This is what He prayed.
John 17:13-19 (NLT)
13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.
We are called to be IN the world, but not OF the world. We are on earth, as ambassadors of another Kingdom. Heaven is our home, but earth is where we are called to represent heaven. And so our influence on the world around us should be bigger than the influence of the world on us. And, like Jesus, we approach this world with both the GRACE and the TRUTH of God.
Over the ages, Christians have responded in different ways to the world where God has put them.
Three types of Christians
1. Monastery Christians
They hide away in their world of church people and refuse any contact with the outside world because they might get contaminated.
2. Chameleon Christians
Chameleon Christians change color, depending on their surroundings. They are front row - hands in the air – type of Christians on Sunday, but the rest of the week they fit in perfectly with the rest of the world.
3. Christlike Christians
The Christian that says: I am in the world, but I am not of the world. I am here because God put me here. I am the salt of the earth. I am a light to the world. God put me here to make a difference for the Kingdom of God. As an ambassador of the Kingdom. I am going to be a person of influence, because I live under influence – the influence of the Holy Spirit in my life! I live to make a difference, because He that is in me is stronger that he that is in the world.
This message series and this particular sermon is based on the book and series "The Daniel Dilemma" by Chris Hodges, pastor of Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama.