October 15, 2017: Values (Security)
Scripture Used: Daniel 3 (select verses)
We are going to continue our exploration on Values by talking about something that is sensitive, and it may be the greatest hurdle to fully embracing our call as Christians for some of you. Today, I want to talk about security. Does God really intend for us to feel safe secure?
Last year, journalist Courtney Martin presented a TED talk that got a great deal of attention due to its splashy subject matter: millennials and the American Dream. Her talk points to a trend in how young people have to deal with an economic market that is undermining traditional Western values of achievement and financial security through hard work and a good education.
It centers on a study by the Pew Research Group that points to a distinct change in how millennials experience the job hunt after school, lack of sufficient jobs (aka “you need experience to get a starting job, you need a job to get experience). It threatens the ideal of the American Dream.
But, Martin claims, the American Dream of my generation and generations after mine is not the same. Today, she claims, is different because the majority of parents do not think their kids will be better off than they were. Now, she notes, people change jobs more, incomes have not risen, and we cannot escape the implicit and explicit demand to overwork even if they payoff isn’t there anymore. Owning a home is less and less possible in more and more places. Even in Charlotte and Dickson County.
I grew up believing I would go to school, get a job, and could live how I wanted and where I wanted in a comfortable manner. I could save for retirement and pay off a mortgage. I could one day feel like my life was safe and secure, at least financially. But it isn’t true, and when I and others look for answers or at least some way of understanding why that is, we are told that we are too entitled and we expect things to be handed to us.
So, before I continue, let me tell you those generalizations are wrong, offensive, and a copout for older generations to not take responsibility for their actions’ toll on the current state of the economy, culture, and environment. But that’s not what I’m talking about today. The reason people my age are upset and why people who are not my age are indignant, is because the changes we see in the world – whether they are economic, differences in perception, or any other problem – cause us to feel less secure than we would like. We don’t like change, and we especially don’t like change that makes us feel like we aren’t in control of our future.
In our society, we value independence and accomplishment because we believe those are what makes a person secure. We don’t like the reality that it only takes a few instances of bad luck to put us on equal footing with the dependent and the unaccomplished – the poor.
Security, or the feeling of being in control, also ties into safety. Safety is about being in control of our bodies. We like to feel like we can affect almost everything that happens to us.
Depending on who you are, safety and security can mean different things. I have friends who never leave home except on one vacation, and even then they tend to always go to the same places and stay in the same hotel or condo, because familiarity is safe to them. I also have friends who have no desire to live or vacation in the same place twice for the rest of their lives. Security for them is flexibility. Both types, and all the types in between, are concerned about security and safety in their own way.
But what does God say about security? It’s easy to point to the passages from Exodus and the Psalms that we put on t-shirts, like “God provides for the sparrows so why not you, too?” (I’m paraphrasing) and the ever-popular Psalm 23, where God clears our life’s path. Those are powerful, but we use them so much, we have lost the power of their meaning through our control over the parts we like.
Today’s passage is one that is also well known, but it’s imagery is so specific and vivid that it helps keep us from watering down its meaning.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are three Jewish men who serve the king of Babylon. Being good Jews, whenever the king decided to erect great statues and monuments, they avoided worshipping those idols, because one of the Ten Commandments is pretty clear about not doing that.
The people who convinced the king to erect these statues did so because they knew it would trap them in the king’s law to obey. The king gets mad – really, really mad – and declares Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be burned alive. The fire is so hot, the soldiers preparing it die by being too close. The men hold on to their faith, expecting to die, but are saved.
There are three lessons I glean from this passage:
- Their security is in their faith. They believed fully in God’s power and would rather die than blaspheme against God. God sees their faith and their commitment and sends an angel to keep them safe in the furnace.
- They hoped God would act, but they also made room for God to choose not to. So often we think that God should do what we want, and when God doesn’t, we resign ourselves to it not being part of God’s plan. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego expected either decision to be a witness to others that faith in the God of the Jews was worth the price of death. Truly, in all things, to God would go the glory of this situation.
- They didn’t decide to take matters of security and safety in their own hands. The position they had in the court meant a lot of people worked with them, under them, and were possibly even loyal to them. They could have used their position to start a revolt or a coup, or found a way to escape in the night. but curiously, they didn’t seem to even plead their case very much. Sometimes we are in positions where our only option is to believe God will help us.
The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is a powerful claim to God’s ability to deliver the righteous, which is proven over and over in the Old Testament, and it is especially powerful for those of us who follow Christ, who also held on to faith and faced his enemies often.
I noted in Bible Study this week that we Christians in the developed world have lost that sense of total reliance on God to keep us safe and secure. In the wake of horrible tragedies, like the one in Nashville last month, people feel encouraged to come to church armed so they feel safe. Does that speak to our belief that God will be with us? Or are we undermining God’s ability to protect us? For this, we must look to Jesus.
In Matthew 26, when a crowd came to arrest Jesus, one of his disciples uses a sword to cut off the ear of a servant. We aren’t sure if Jesus wanted his disciples armed or would have allowed it if he did not know. His response to this act is telling nonetheless: He tells the crowd, “…those who live by the sword will die by it.” He then heals the man’s ear.
It is hard to believe that God wants violence when over and over in the life of Jesus, he could have chosen to call upon the angels to save him or to end the rule of the sinful and self-righteous, but he doesn’t do that.
You rarely hear people use this passage when we are threatened, but it is a powerful reminder that our safety and security are not up to us, and assuring them ourselves may cause us to disobey God’s desire for our lives. It may cause us to end the life of another God chooses.
God does not call us to lives of comfort, God doesn’t even call us to lives of safety. We have to embrace what following in the footsteps of Jesus means for each of us individually, but we also must recognize that the path of discipleship at some point will rub against our selfish desires to be in control of the situation.
Whatever you do in life to assure your security, remember that it is all up to God. It is good stewardship to save money and be prepared for a rainy day; it is good leadership to be strong in the face of evil; it is good to protect those we love; but all of that means nothing if we do it in the name of a God we do not have faith in.
Let me close with this: in a couple of weeks, members of multiple white nationalist groups will descend upon Middle Tennessee. I believe the idea that certain groups are better than others is an inherent evil. Hate groups are but one fiery furnace that we face today. Pray for those people who will stand against them peacefully to send the message that hate does not belong in our society. Pray that no one gets hurt and that love and hope in our shared status as children of God wins the day. Pray for those who lay their security on the line to bear witness to the power of God like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, no matter what happens.