On January 24th I started preaching through the book of Daniel. HERE is the link to my outline and thoughts regarding the first sermon. Then yesterday I took some time to preach from Jeremiah 29. The reason I preached from Jeremiah 29 was because it contains clear instructions to the Jewish people who were living in Babylonian captivity.
How do we live in a post-Christian culture? When the political world seems to be spinning out of control. When values we have always believed in are no longer respected. In the book of Daniel we find many answers to this question about how we live today in a Babylonian culture.
Retell the story in Daniel 1
Judah, the Southern Kingdom has been invaded by the violent, wicked, Babylonian Empire. This has happened because God’s people are not seeking God with all of their heart.
Daniel and his friends taken into Babylonian captivity. Daniel came to Babylon as a teenager and stayed there into his late 80s. King Nebuchadnezzar attempted to change Daniel and his friends through the power of their culture (name change, language, food, education). Daniel is one of the few characters in Scripture that we don’t learn about him sinning or wrongdoing.
Read passage: Jeremiah 29:4-14
4 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,1 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD.
10 “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare2 and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the LORD, band I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
IMPORTANT: This passage must have been shocking to the Jewish people.
In Psalm 137:8-9 we learn that the Babylonians had dashed the Jewish babies upon rocks and raped the women. And yet God, through Jeremiah, is telling them to seek the welfare of Babylon. It’s hard to imagine a more shocking letter than they one the Jews received in Jeremiah 29.
How do the people of God live while they are in exile?
Define Babylonian culture: James Davison Hunter literally wrote the book regarding culture wars in 1991. Here is my personal take on what a culture war is all about. It is the spirit of the age, working against God and his purposes in the world. It is characterized by idolatry; man, not God, is at the center of the universe, sexual immorality is pervasive, the pursuit of pleasure, and attempting to remove God from our world. There seems to be a strong demonic force at work in the Babylonian culture. In Revelation 18:1-2 we read this:
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. 2 And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons…”
There are three bad ways we can respond to our culture and one good way that is modeled to us by Jesus Christ
(ONE) Fight: We fight culture wars
In Jeremiah 29 God does not tell his people to fight against the Babylonians. We are not the moral majority but we keep acting like it. We keep acting like we are the ones with the power and on top of that we have grown accustomed to using the world’s tools to fight a spiritual battle. All of the problems we see in culture come from the wickedness of the human heart. Only the gospel has the power to change the heart.
There was a culture war going on in Jesus’ day. Zealots were fighting against Roman Empire. Did Jesus tap into the rage? No. Jesus pointed his disciples in a different direction.
The result of fighting a culture war is that the world misunderstands what the church and Jesus is all about. The world will think that Christians are angry, outraged people on the conservative side of the aisle. Instead, we should be known because of our love.
People have shrugged and seemed to say in a whisper, maybe politics will fix our problems. That is easier than getting involved and actually living like salt and light.
“A final irony has to do with the idea of political responsibility. Christians are urged to vote and become involved in politics as an expression of their civic duty and public responsibility. This is a credible argument and good advice up to a point. Yet in our day, given the size of the state and the expectations that people place on it to solve so many problems, politics can also be a way of saying, in effect, that the problems should be solved by others besides myself and by institutions other than the church. It is, after all, much easier to vote for a politician who champions child welfare than to adopt a baby born in poverty, to vote for a referendum that would expand health care benefits for seniors than to care for an elderly and infirmed parent, and to rally for racial harmony than to get to know someone of a different race than yours. True responsibility invariably costs. Political participation, then, can and often does amount to an avoidance of responsibility.” -James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World
(TWO) Escape: We hide in our houses (and churches) and wait for the Second coming
Jeremiah 29 makes it clear that we are not to hide from our culture. We are to be a part of the culture, yet live such holy lives that others take note. If we choose to escape then we will have zero influence on the Babylonian culture around us.
Jesus is the better Daniel. Jesus left his safe neighborhood (heaven) and moved to a dangerous neighborhood all because he was on a rescue mission.
(THREE) Compromise: We end up looking more like the world than Jesus
Daniel could have very easily chosen this option. He was given the best food, the best wine, living in the royal court. He could have simply said that he was going to enjoy the good life all around him. Daniel, a teenager, resisted the temptations all around him and instead was used in a powerful way for God.
What are the ways in our life that we have begun to compromise our Christian values?
(FOUR) Engage: Live in culture as salt and light, love people, make disciples
In Jeremiah 29: 7 we learn that Christians are to love for the welfare for the people and the city around them. The Hebrew word for welfare is ‘shalom.’ Christians are to be looking to bring peace into their everyday life. What does that look like?
ONE: Don’t be afraid of putting down roots where you live. I am hearing from people all around me that fear is taking deep roots in our lives. Fear is 100% not the way of a follower of Jesus Christ. In the middle of being taken into captivity, the world seemed like it was ending, Jeremiah does not tell the children of God to stop living. He does not tell them that fear is ever justified. We simply do not know when the Second Coming of Jesus will be so we live life with purpose and meaning every single day.
TWO: Focus on prayer. Jeremiah 29:12 we are told that the proper response, one way of seeking the welfare/shalom of the city, is to pray. My strong conviction is that as a church we must be pursuing corporate prayer on a more frequent basis. Corporately and personally. Are we seeking God in prayer? Are we getting on our knees and praying for the good of our city?
THREE: Repent of sin. Tim Keller writes this, “We must be far harder on ourselves in gracious, humble repentance, than we are on the unbelieving culture around us. This was a major lesson for the exiles and for us. Our first response should be repentance. We should be very understanding toward people who have failed to believe in Christ because the weakness of the church’s testimony. A lot of what is happening in our culture today may be more our fault than we are willing to admit.”
“The church is waiting for the world to become regenerate, while the world is waiting for the church to become repentant.” –Leonard RavenhillTweet
FOUR: Seek spiritual renewal. Do we desire spiritual renewal in our lives? Our church? Our city? Again, are we praying for it? This is one of my constant prayers these days. Lord, save the lost sons and daughters all around us. Wake up those who are spiritually asleep in the church.
FIVE: Make disciples. Imagine if Christians spent less time watching the news and talking about conspiracy theories and instead started building relationships and making disciples! What a powerful transformation this would have in our churches and in our culture.
SIX: Be people of hope! Stop giving into despair! The people all around us need to see that we trust that God is sovereign and that we are not ruled by fear.
Vision of our church: Our vision is to be “Deeply Rooted in Six Counties” all around us. We are to live for the welfare/shalom of the area in which God has strategically placed us.
We have to stop seeing the world as the enemy and instead see them as our mission field. We pursue people in our Babylonian culture with the same love that Jesus Christ has showered upon us.Tweet
12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. -Ephesians 6:12