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Avoiding Extremes to Influence Culture

Avoiding Extremes to Influence Culture

Daniel Dilemma Study Guide

If those of us living in the year 2000 or earlier could have time-traveled ahead to our present day, what do you think our reaction would have been when we saw the headlines of today? Considering the massive shifts in cultural norms ranging from same-sex marriage to drug legalization, most peoples’ heads would have been spinning to see how dramatic the shifts in what is considered right or wrong and how to respond to it have changed.

It’s a healthy exercise for us to consider that what we’ve been doing in preparing our churches to resist evil and influence others in our culture towards the Gospel isn’t working as well as we’d like. The percentage of people choosing “Not affiliated” in faith surveys keeps moving up, and the pace of moral excellence keeps moving down. If you agree with that statement, the next logical question is, why? What are we doing wrong? Why is our salt and light not affecting those around us like it used to, and is there anything we can do to fix it?

Today, perhaps more than ever, we have the privilege of loving others and offering them God’s truth that we’re all sinful and in need of a Savior. This responsibility means we balance the truth of the standards in God’s Word with the reality of his loving acceptance and life-changing grace. In other words, we are to do what Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery.

Living out a balanced approach isn’t easy, and it almost always stretches us beyond our comfort zones. Often, the tension between standing firm and loving well paralyzes us. We want to demonstrate the love of God to others, to serve those in need, and to share the good news of the gospel with those apart from God, but we don’t want to embrace the immorality that often seems to cause and emerge from so many rapid cultural changes. Consequently, we feel like we don’t know our place anymore. We’re frustrated or even confused, torn between what we hear in church and what we see online. We feel caught between extremes, not wanting to alienate people who need God just as much as we do, and not wanting to compromise our convictions and biblical beliefs.

When culture shifts—and it always has and always will—we tend toward the extremes, in part because they seem easier and require less of us. We may feel so angry, threatened, and frustrated that we want to withdraw from culture, attacking and condemning people who don’t agree with us. Or we may become so battle weary that we’re tempted to issue a blanket acceptance that avoids any cultural conflicts.

But the good news of the gospel means we don’t have to become paralyzed by extremes. We can be the calm in the midst of our cultural storm. There’s another response we see demonstrated in the Bible, not only by Jesus, but also by someone in cultural circumstances shockingly similar to our own. This example reveals an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary events and the challenges that forced him to maintain a faith based on God’s truth and characterized by God’s grace.

This person is the prophet Daniel. If we study the life of the prophet Daniel and the dilemma he faced, we can learn to engage our culture without compromising our faith. He faced drastic differences and diversity, and endured the immorality and corruption of a shifting culture that closely resembles our own. He not only persevered through the slippery morals and rebelliousness of his own people, but Daniel remained steadfast when thrust into one of the most decadent cultures in all of history—ancient Babylon.

Because he served God he never despaired and never gave up. Daniel had no one else, yet still he trusted God to see him through. With humble confidence, Daniel glorified God through his actions and speech. His character and conduct stood out because it was both respectful and resolute. He didn’t conform to the demands of Nebuchadnezzar and all the pagan customs of the Babylonians, but he didn’t act self-righteous, judgmental, or defensive either. He knew the goal wasn’t to be right; it was to have influence. He knew being right and being righteous are not the same.

For the next seventy years of his life, Daniel faced life threatening tests—from watching friends endure a fiery furnace to spending the night in a lions’ den. But even when the foreign culture shifted around him, Daniel never wavered in his faith. In response to Daniel’s steadfast faith and commitment to both truth and grace, God demonstrated his supernatural power and honored the one who honored him by blessing Daniel with the respect of four different Babylonian emperors. Finally, the last one, Cyrus, granted the Jewish people freedom so they could return home. Now that’s influence!

How to Use This Book

We have real hope we’re called to share. But how we share it makes a difference.

Christians today face a dilemma: in a world that seems to reject everything we believe, how do we walk closely with God without caving to pressure or alienating those we hope to reach?

In this eye-opening new book and video study, Chris Hodges provides a solution by examining the life of the prophet Daniel, who persevered in a corrupt culture that closely resembles our own—and emerged as an influential force in God’s redemptive plan. Full of scripture and seasoned with Hodges’ candid personal insights, The Daniel Dilemma shows us that we can hold firmly to biblical beliefs without becoming obnoxious, insulting, or mad. We can stand strong while loving others well. Because standing for truth isn’t about winning the argument; it’s about winning hearts. And when we learn the secret of connecting before correcting, we discover that we can respond to today’s hard questions without compromising grace or truth.

With fresh insights and practical ideas, Hodges encourages Christians struggling with our cultural reality to hold God’s standards high and his grace deep—just as Jesus did, and just as his followers today are called to do.