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The Power of Non-Participation

Being a Christ follower has some significant effects on the way that we love.  We’re at an interesting point in generational thought shifts in the Christian culture of the U.S.  The powerful Christian generation before us has been full of fear, avoiding anything that is associated with the ways of this sinful world.  This older generation has done so to the extreme, making following Jesus about what Christians don’t do instead of what they do.  The generation did this so much that we now have colleges that will kick people out if they consume alcohol, while in the Scriptures we have a Jesus that gives wine to drunk people and church figureheads that tell church leaders to have some wine and stop drinking only water.

I’m from an overreacting generation to these extremist standards of living that aren’t better because they’re extreme for Christ, but worse because they look less like Jesus in forbidding what God has made holy.  However, in my generation that wants to be known for what we do and what we accept rather than for what we don’t do, there is a danger.  We are in danger of accepting too much.  We are in danger of living a life that looks just like the world around us, with a little bit of social activism thrown in.  In Scripture, we see that a lot of the power of the kingdom of God comes from what people reject and not just from what they accept and do.

As for myself, I’m a little scared of accepting people where they are at as their life takes them into hell.  I’m scared of loving people in a way that doesn’t actually contribute to their life changing.  I’m scared I’ll be one of many in our Christian culture that lives like the culture, accepting it as my own.  A story in Daniel  shows us both the difficulty and power of non-participation.

Shaddy (Shadrack), Meesha (Meshach), and Ben (Abednego) were exiles militarily forced to live in Babylon, aliens living in a foreign land.  While under this foreign king, they became officials in the kingdom.  During their time as officials, the king made a huge statue of himself and decreed that everyone in the land had to bow down before it and worship his image.  The whole of Babylon, men from every nation and tongue bowed down to the king’s image.  These men wouldn’t do it.  They  simply refused to do anything that put someone else or some other god above their YHWH, even when other Israelites bowed to the statue.  Shaddy, Meesha, and Ben had nothing to gain by their refusal and everything to lose.  Not only would they lose their powerful positions in a powerful kingdom, but they would lose their very lives.  They stood when everyone else bowed.  They were given a second chance knowing a fiery furnace awaited them if they did not kneel; they stood when everyone else bowed.

Will we do this?  Will I do this?  Or will I become a part of the culture around me, indistinguishable from the bowing masses?  It’s easy to do.  There are so many gods in our culture and so many towering idols.  The god of money.  The god of safety.  The god of fame.  The god of lust.  The god of politics.  The god of stuff.  The god of selfishness.  The god of impressing people.  The god of belonging.  These things are not as physically obvious as a ninety foot tall statue, but if one looks for them, they are overwhelming large idols that people bow down to.  Often  I want to bow down to them.  I won’t be killed for not doing so, but often when I take stands I face social persecution, ostracism, and aloneness.  And there’s this part of me that feels like I am missing out on what I am choosing not to take part in.  These men faced death and still refused to bow to the idols of their time.  When I, facing so much less than death, am faced with the great idols of my time, will I bow or will I stand?  Will you?

Obedience to God opens our lives to His power.  When we are recognized not only by what we do (our relationships with God and how we relate to people) but by what we don’t do, God moves.  We have to trust that obedience to God is the best thing for us, that what we are missing out on by giving deference to idols is much less than what we would be missing out on if we chose not to give deference to our Creator.  We have to trust that because God asked us to stand while the rest of the world bows, He and His power will stand with us.

When the three God-fearing Israelites stood alone in Babylon, God didn’t come down and keep them from being thrown into a blazing hot furnace.  The king asked the rhetorical question, its answer obvious, “what god will be able to rescue you from my hand.”  The men responded that their God could.  But God let them be thrown in.  The three men that stood went into the furnace and faced the inevitable melting of their flesh, bones, and organs.  It was so hot the soldiers that threw them in were killed.  But as the three were in the furnace a fourth man that looked like a son of God showed up inside, YHWH there to support them and keep them from harm.  Their hair was not even singed.  YHWH was with them, because they stood for Him.  The story of Shaddy, Meesha, and Ben ends with the king acknowledging YHWH as Lord and decreeing that anyone who said anything against this Great God was to be killed.  And the three Israelites got a promotion.

Who has the power today?  Is it the powerful rulers or the powerful masses?  Or is it God?  While presidents, dictators, kings, moviestars, media, and society all have power, they only have power because God on high has allowed them to have it.  It is God alone that we should bow to.  He is not only the most powerful, but the most rewarding.  Those that would hurt us in any manner don’t have power to unless God has first allowed them to have it.  Let us, then, rend our wills to God’s, set only on glorifying Him through what we do and what we are deliberate about choosing not to do.  There is power in non-participation – through God, the power to change the world’s most powerful nation.

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