Monday, March 10, 2008

Functioning Within the Culture

“But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank . . .” Daniel 1:8

In 605 BC, the Babylonians besieged the city of Jerusalem. They hauled off the temple treasury as well as a group of young men, some of whom were of royal descent, off to Babylon to be trained and educated in Babylonian ways. The process was to take three years. At the end of their education, the men were destined to enter the king’s service.

The young men (some of whom were as young as 15) were immediately submersed into the Babylonian culture. The Babylonian goal was to indoctrinate the men, remove their distinctive Jewishness from them, and make them Babylonian citizens in every way. This effort at transformation was so thorough, they even changed the names of these young men. The four specific men spoken of in Daniel 1 all originally had the name of God in their Hebrew names. Their new Babylonian names invoked images of the heathen gods instead.

The first big issue that came up for Daniel and his friends as they struggled to survive this new setting was food. God had laid out very specific laws as to what a Hebrew could eat. The king provided the best that Babylon had to offer for the trainees. Unfortunately, much of what was served was inappropriate and violated the dietary laws of God. Daniel set out to do what must be done to keep from disobeying God’s laws and defiling himself with the king’s food.

It is interesting to see Daniel’s plan of attack as laid out in Daniel 1:8-15. The first step in Daniel took is in verse 8. He made up his mind. This is always the first step when preparing for action. We need to prayerfully determine the path we will take, and resolve ourselves to doing whatever is necessary to achieve that goal.

The second thing Daniel did was to work within the authority he was under. He approached the commander of the officials in respect and humility. Not once did he appear rebellious or angry. Daniel quietly requested permission to make a change.

Next we notice that Daniel had a plan. His plan was to eat only fruit and vegetables for a period of ten days. At the end of the time period, the officials would examine Daniel and his friends to see if their dietary changes would have an adverse affect on his appearance. Daniel’s plan was sensitive to the needs of the overseer, who was in fear for his life should he allow harm to come to these chosen young men.

Finally, Daniel and his friends followed through. They did exactly as they postulated and ate only fruit and vegetables. Daniel 1:15 tells us that after the ten days, the young men actually looked better than those who had been eating the king’s choice food.

And God blessed them in their obedience. He gave them “knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom.” Daniel was even given the special ability to interpret dreams, which would come in handy in the very next chapter.

We, too, are living in a culture which demands a plan, lest we succomb to the temptation of giving in to the parts of our culture which are seductive to fleshly desires and deadly to living obedient lives for Christ. We live in this world, and those around us who need the Lord live in this world. If we remove ourselves too far from the cultural norms, we begin to look too quirky to be taken seriously by those who need the message we bear. We need to present Christ in a way which will be relevant to the every day lives of the people around us.

With that in mind, there are hard decisions to make. How do we handle money? How do we dress? What music do we listen to? How big a house do we buy? How do we fit in without becoming just like the world? Just like Daniel, we need a plan.

Our plans will be personal and individual, because they are for individuals placed in unique settings. Everyone needs to personally struggle with these issues and purposefully decide how they are going to present Jesus Christ to their neighbors, friends, and family as they live out their every day life. St. Francis of Assisi once wrote, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” Our very lifestyle will be sending a message to those who live in darkness. We are called to be the light of the world. If we live obediently to the truth of God’s Word, we will shine out like a flame surrounded by darkness. Somehow this needs to happen within the context of the culture that we live.

Daniel was effective because he kept obedience to God as his top priority. He then worked within the system God had placed him. He stuck to his guns. And God rewarded him by keeping him healthy and strong, and further blessed him by making him wise. Daniel remained and functioned within the culture, but continued to shine out as a testimony of a man who kept the Lord at the forefront of his mind and priorities. And the impact he was able to have on the kings and officials he served is proof positive that his plan of obedience within the culture was blessed by God.

No comments: