Blooming in Babylon

In the midst of an election year, it seems like negative campaign ads are omnipresent telling us just how awful everything is and how close to total destruction our nation will be if a certain candidate is elected or re-elected.  The news media as well seems to thrive on reporting stories that are particularly gut-wrenching and awful.  The Christian media doesn’t seem to bring much hope into our lives either – constantly bombarding us with email news flashes and petitions requiring urgent and instant response and tales of moral decay that if not immediately arrested will bring down our nation, the church and the world!  God’s Word tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made…. the “fearfully” component of our nature seems to be very evident all around us and in us today!

Yet, as believers, we are called to live a life free from fear (II Tim. 1:7) in the hope, joy and peace of the Holy Spirit regardless of the seemingly cataclysmic news that pervades our culture. Is it possible?? How would you respond if you were one of the best and brightest students at a prestigious university, your family was well connected politically and socially, your future looked extremely bright and promising and suddenly you were kidnapped and taken to Tehran. The cross, pulpit and Bible of your favorite church were stolen and made into objects of ridicule in the mosque in Tehran.  Your Christian name was changed to one that honored Allah, you were told to forget your family and the U.S. and that for the next three years you would be required to learn Arabic fluently, do an intense study of the Koran and Islamic culture and practices which would prepare you for a place of service in the Iranian government.  How would you respond?  What would your attitude and outlook be?  Could you manifest love, joy, peace, or hope in these circumstances?

An analogous situation, actually even more difficult, happened to one of my biblical heroes – Daniel.  Taken forcefully from his family and country, his name changed to honor the demonic idol Baal, required to learn the pagan religious and intellectual traditions of a very foreign and evil culture, and likely castrated ( Daniel 1:8 tells us that Daniel was  under the authority of the “chief of the eunuchs” (literal translation). This was typical practice when a conquering king brought the best and brightest into his court and the scriptures never mention a wife or children in connection with Daniel.).  He was then called to serve and work for the success of a King who had ordered all this be done to him and, if that were not enough, he had to do it in a place that became the biblical symbol of evil on earth – Babylon!  I don’t know about you but my attitude likely wouldn’t have been too positive and sunny at this time!

Did Daniel did curl up into a fetal position, go on a hunger strike, protest learning this “godless” language and coursework, and refuse to serve this godless king in this godless place?   No, quite the opposite, he actually “bloomed” in Babylon.  He was a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Babylon U, maintained his integrity without being obnoxious about it, and ended up being the top advisor to the king – likely influencing Nebuchadnezzar and many of his subjects to become followers of the true God! (Dan. 4:34-37)  How in the world did he do it?  Let’s look briefly at a few of Daniel’s traits that may help us to bloom in our modern “Babylonian” culture:

He knew God had a handle on the big picture! Despite what may appear as evil getting the upper hand, Daniel was confident that even this was under the sovereign control of God.  “He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings.” (Dan 2:21)  God is in control of who is in control! Clearly what was done to Daniel was evil and Babylon was an evil and very pagan city but Daniel knew that his being there was somehow all part of God’s overall plan and purpose for his life.  We need to realize that sometimes God allows wickedness to seemingly succeed in the short run for his purposes. (see Habakkuk – God uses the more wicked Assyrians to discipline his people for a season)  Yet, like Daniel, we need to realize that God has a purpose for us even in the midst of what often seem like very negative and challenging circumstances.  We can ask, “God, how do you want me to be used here and now – in the midst of this mess?” or we can grumble, complain and curse the godless world and godless people around us withdrawing and licking our wounds.  Daniel was an optimist, not in the naïve sense of the word, but in the sense that he knew God was in control and his purposes would ultimately prevail.  He knew that evil plans and desires would not be able to stand against the God of this universe and his people. (See Mt 16:18; Rev 18-22)

He lived in the Babylonian world but he was not changed by it! Daniel was able, by God’s grace, to live and work with those who often were very godless without compromising his own character.  He realized there was a big difference between what he may not have liked and what God actually forbids.  When he was personally required to do something God had explicitly said was wrong (eat “unclean” food – Dan 1:8) or when he was personally forbidden to do something God had commanded (pray – Dan 6:10) he stood by his convictions and let the chips fall where they may.  Yet, Daniel did not separate from those who believed and acted in ways that were very inconsistent with what he knew to be truth.  He mastered the godless curriculum of his teachers even though he knew it was false.  I may not like the language of a co-worker or friend;  I may not agree with my professor’s point of view on a particular subject; I may not hold my neighbor’s view on abortion or some aspect of sexual ethics, but Daniel teaches us that treating these people with love and respect does not mean that I am being untrue to God or compromising my beliefs.  In fact, I am actually obeying Him and following his example as he loved and respectfully treated so many who were enslaved by sin and false beliefs.

He truly cared for those who were around him…even his enemies! He was genuinely concerned for Nebuchadnezzar when one of his dreams prophesied a coming period of humiliation for the king (Daniel 4:19b)  He seemed to go out of his way to ensure that the “chief of the eunuchs” would not get in trouble with the king if the Hebrews ate a kosher diet (Dan. 1:8-16)  He was concerned for his friends and even the pagan “wise men” of Babylon. (Dan. 2:24)  If we are going to “bloom” in our Babylon we need to ask the Lord to give us a love and concern for those around us that is real.  Far too often in the “culture wars” of our land, we look down with disdain and disrespect those who may be promoting an agenda that is unbiblical or differs from what we believe is true.  When we fail to respect and value those who hold opposing positions we lose an opportunity to share the only truth that can powerfully transform a life.  Paul told Timothy to be a gentle, humble and patient communicator of truth with those who opposed him, recognizing that they had been duped by the ultimate Deciever. (II Tim 2:24-26)  No one likes or is eager to listen to someone who doesn’t respect them.  Truth screamed from a distance is rarely, if ever, heard.

He was humbly dependent on God despite his considerable natural gifting. It is clear, Daniel was one of the best and brightest of Israel – no physical defects, good looking, sharp intellect and an extremely quick study (Dan. 1:4)  Yet, despite his many natural talents, Daniel lived in dependence on God and was quick to acknowledge that his abilities were the gift of God (Dan 2:18, 20-23; 27-30)  His boss, Nebuchadnezzar, obviously got this message because he regularly referred to Daniel as one connected with the “God of gods” (Dan 2:47) and as one in whom was the “Spirit of the Holy God” (Dan 4:9,18)  His personal devotional life was so famous that his enemies used it in an attempt to bring him down (Dan 6:5-10)  How convicting it is to see a man of Daniel’s stature and abilities recognize that it is “not by might, not by power but by my Spirit” says the Lord!

As believers, we know that “Babylon” will one day fall (Rev. 18) yet, as long as the Lord tarries, we are called to live in “Babylon”  We can descend into despair over the evils of the world;  we can head for the hills seeking to isolate ourselves from the world;  we can scream true messages that never will be truly heard or we can fall on our knees and thank God that he has called us and will equip us to love, respect and reach out to those who don’t yet know him but who God has placed in our lives in this very mixed up and messed up world – aka “Babylon”.