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Shining Light into the Darkness

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Our culture has become one of talking points where it is “us versus them” and neither side can meet in the middle.
Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit. (Pope Francis)
We have been learning a lot of principles that will help us to stand firm on a horribly toxic culture and to love well in the same culture. I have not tried to provide scripts for specific cultural conflicts, ungodly standards, or sinful behavior in others.
Think about how annoyed you become when a telemarketer calls and goes through their script. Those situations drive me crazy on many levels, but one is that I like to have real conversations with real people.
There are principles that cover all of the issues we will face, but each individual situation and each person, deserves a real conversation. I can’t tell you the exact words to use when you are confronted with the cultural challenges in your life. We all have different situations and personalities.
There is no one-size-fits -all way for being Daniel in the culture you live in today.
Being a person of godly influence in an ungodly culture a deep-seated personal faith and intimate relationship with God along with a reliance on him as your daily power source and guide.
Let me review some of the truths we have learned as we move to become people of influence in our culture.
Know your Identity in Christ.
Settle your core values
Be ready to stand your ground in the tests of life.
Worship the Lord
Don’t worship other stuff
Give our lives fully to Jesus
Identify our pride and deal with it.
Put our feelings in their proper place
Give God full control of our lives
Understand the brevity of life - but a vapor.
Focus on our priorities
Heed the warning signs of weariness.
Learn how to connect before you correct.
Let God change us into His likeness.
These don’t have to be mastered before we can influence others… because none of us can master them all. These ideas challenge us to grow closer to the Lord.
As God works in us, we become vessels that he can use to impact others.
Loved by the Father, Saved by the Son, and empowered by His Spirit, we influence the culture around us in two major ways: spiritually and relationally.

Shining light into the darkness

We have to confront the culture the same way Jesus did. When he came face to face with the devil and was tempted, Jesus responded with the WOG. He used the sword of truth to defend himself.
Just a side note: Jesus did not confront the devil as God. He confronted the devil as a man with the WOG. Thats what we have to do as well.

Five Scriptures and Five Prayer Focuses

1. Pray that the Father would draw them to Jesus

John 6:44 NLT
44 For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up.
When I gave my life to the Lord, I remember that there had been a tug developing in my heart. Something was stirring inside me and drawing me towards the Lord. When Jon asked me when I was going to get off the fence, I was ready. God had been drawing me to him.
Think about someone you have been praying for and bow your heads....
“Father, I pray for the people around me, that you would supernaturally draw their hearts to you. Send your Holy Spirit to them, and give them the desire to give their lives to you. Help them to recognize their longing for more as spiritual, as a thirst only you can quench. Open their ears to hear your voice.”

2. Bind the spirit that blinds their minds.

2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT
4 Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.
The truth can be right in front of people and they still can’t see it. That’s because something is in the way. The enemy has blinded them but we can pray that the Lord will remove the obstacles so they can see the truth.
“Father, bind the evil spirits that are blinding the minds of the people around me in the name of Jesus. I pray that they would be able to see clearly, to recognize who you are, and to give their hearts to you. Remove all hindrances the Enemy would use to distract them from your truth. Open their eyes, Lord, that they might see Jesus”

3. Let loose the spirit of adoption. (personal relationship with Jesus)

Romans 8:15 NLT
15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”
Many people in our culture think Christianity is just another religion. This minimizes God… just like the Babylonians did with Daniel and the Jews. These folks may be frustrated or angry with the institution of the church and see Christians as legalists and hypocrites.
God did not come to build an organization. He came to have a relationship with his children.
Praying for people to have personal encounters with God makes a difference.
“Father, I pray that people will understand how much you love them. Loose the spirit of adoption for the people around me, so that they come into a meaningful relationship with you. Stir in their hearts a longing to come home, to hear your voice, and to see you welcoming them with open arms. Let them know you are always running to meet them and hold them close”

4. Pray that believers will enter into positive relationships with the lost

and pray that we will see the opportunities that come across our paths.
Matthew 9:38 NLT
38 So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”
We need to pray for opportunities to share what God is doing in our lives and for others to have the opportunities as well. God’s plan to reach the world is carried out through those of us who already know him.
His desire is for everyone to know him personally and to follow him and to spend eternity in heaven with him.
We are spiritual farmers and we need to be awake to the opportunities to plant, water or harvest spiritual seeds in others. We have no idea of who may have been praying for someone and if the act of kindness we deliver might be the push they need towards the Lord.
“Father, I pray for the lost around me to meet believers who will influence them in a positive way. Lord, let my life shine in such a way that people want to know the God I serve. Allow others to see my genuine love and concern for them in all I say and do. Let me be your hands and feet to serve them and let them know how much you love them. ”

5. Release the spirit of wisdom and revelation on them, so they may know God better.

Ephesians 1:17 NIV
17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
This is the aha! moment when it clicks, and they understand. We have all experienced it in school when something finally clicks.
The most important place for the truth to click is in the spiritual realm… when the lights come on spiritually. People need to see their own sin, see what Jesus did on the cross and the the hope that comes from giving their life to the Lord. They need revelation and wisdom, not just knowledge of spiritual things.
“Father, I pray for the people around me to experience the spirit of wisdom and revelation. I pray that they would truly understand their spiritual condition and see what Jesus did for them on the cross. Help them to have the information and experiences needed to come to you, so they can understand all you have for them”

Confronting Cultural Challenges

Once the spiritual groundwork is laid, then we can work on becoming Christ’s ambassadors to the culture around us. There is no magic formula, no script, but out of our relationship with Jesus will come the ability to confront the cultural challenges and make a difference in our culture.
Here are 5 attitudes or approaches we can incorporate as you engage with the people God places in your world for you to influence.

1. Keep your standards high and your grace deep.

1 Corinthians 1:18–20 NLT
18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.” 20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.
Paul wrote this to the church in Corinth to confront how the culture was affecting the church there. He encouraged the followers to keep their standards high but to do that in a grace filled manner.
He pointed out that those who think they are smarter than God will discover their own limits and end up frustrated. Then Paul asks some rhetorical questions and points out that God has made the wisdom of the world look foolish.
1 Corinthians 1:25 NLT
25 This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.
Paul goes on to confront the culture and the cultural norms, but he does it with grace. He took a strong stand against sin and sinful behavior as well as immoral beliefs and practices. But he did this in a manner that displayed compassion, not condemnation… heartfelt concern and not self righteous indignation.
Like Paul, we need to think less about who might be offended and with Grace and Truth, take a stand for God’s Word. It’s not easy because most of us would like for people to like us. Our culture thinks God and his standards are foolish… they want us to change the way we believe.
So, what are we going to do? Stand firm or give in to the culture?
We need to do what Jesus did. He kept the standards high and the grace deep. Everyone in his day knew the 10 commandments and that adultery was wrong. Then Jesus came along and said,
Matthew 5:28 NLT
28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
In one sentence, Jesus made everyone in the audience and adulterer. Jesus didn’t lower the standard. He pointed to a higher standard and then refused to to condemn those who fell short of it.
IOW, he did not cave into cultural pressure so that he could be liked and accepted. Jesus didn’t say what people wanted him to say or do, he pointed to a higher standard and then provided a way out for those who would repent.
The standard got higher and the grace got deeper.
This is how we should engage the culture and its standards. Let’s stick to God’s way and God’s Word. If the Bible calls it sin, then it’s sin—period. Let’s not give into the pressure to change because the world thinks it’s foolish. Let’s point to a higher standard but extend the deep, abundant grace that we all need.
When faced with a discussion about a moral issue, You might say something like this…
We all fall short of God’s standards - you, me, and everybody. But let’s not change his truth to get what we want. Let’s ask God to change us to fit what he wants. That’s why he’s God and we are his creation. He knows what’s best for us and loves us enough to tell us those boundaries. Moral standards are not manmade, they’re God given.

2. Accept people without approving of their behavior.

Daniel 1:8 NLT
8 But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.
Daniel did not agree with the Babylonian ways, but he respected the authority over him.
Jesus confronted the culture all the time. In John 8, a woman was caught in adultery by the religious leaders. They brought her to Jesus right in front of everyone and demanded that Jesus condemn her to die.
Jesus didn’t fall for it. He knelt down and wrote in the dirt. When they kept pushing him, Jesus said,
John 8:7 NLT
7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
Then he knelt down and started writing again. And they all dropped their stones and walked away. Whatever he was writing must have been pretty good. He may have been writing some of the specific sins of those who wanted to condemn her. Whatever it was, Jesus’ message to them was clear.
John 8:10 NLT
10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
John 8:11 NLT
11 “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Jesus masterfully accepts & respects HER without approving of her behavior. He showed her compassion instead of joining her accusers and gave her a doorway out of her sinful life.
There is no better model for how to engage those around us who are participating in behaviors God identifies as sin than this.
When you are faced with something like that, you might handle it like...
God loves us just the way we are, but too much to let us stay that way. He doesn’t condemn us, but he does want to change us. I think it’s similar to how I feel about my children. I try to love each one uniquely and unconditionally. But I still want them to do what’s truly best for them—not just whatever they feel like doing.

3. Never let the tone become contentious.

Daniel 2:14 NLT
14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, came to kill them, Daniel handled the situation with wisdom and discretion.
ILL - me when one of the guys in my car flipped off the car full of guys...
Unfortunately, our culture tries to encourage and exploit contentiousness. For the media it’s ratings. For many businesses, it’s attention and publicity. Social media re-enforces the idea that everyone’s opinions matter and must be heard on all topics at all times. As we have learned, there are some of the meanest and most cowardly people who say all sorts of things on social media.
It’s even worse when our personal conversations become contentious. We become aggressive and defensive, and when that dynamic surfaces, the opportunity for real communication is gone.
Whenever a friendly, respectful discussion becomes a political debate, a power struggle, or a theological boxing match, it feels like a personal attack. Everyone quits listening and either runs for cover or prepares to fight.
The example set by Daniel and by Jesus, along with many others, is clear. Look at what Jesus had to say about the power of our words to reveal what’s inside us …
Matthew 12:34–37 NIV
34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
The moment you make engaging with people about being right, you need to stop and check your heart.
You may need to apologize or leave. Arguing with someone, especially condemning them and their behavior as sinful has never won anyone to the Lord. What you say might be true, but you are ineffective.
Even if people don’t show it, they feel the weight of their sin and they don’t need you and I adding condemnation to that weight. They need hope. They need someone who will say, I know what it feels like, but now I know the freedom of being forgiven.
If you struggle with this, spend some more time with God, because His heart always replenishes our experience of GRACE. When we encounter his love, forgiveness, and Grace, it’s hard to give up on those around us.
You might say...
“Hey, I can tell we’re both passionate about our beliefs. But I don’t want to argue about this. I’d rather have a friendship with you than win an argument. We can come back to this another time—tell me about . . . [your pet, your kids, your job, whatever will change the topic and build a relational bridge]”
Bro Radke and Edwin Edwards on gambling… they disagreed strongly and the Gov said that would have to agree to disagree… they remained friends and Bro Radke influence him positively.

4. Lead them to truth by identifying with their struggle.

Jude 22–23 NLT
22 And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. 23 Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.
We should never shame and condemn people for their feelings… including same sex attraction or desires to do immoral things. Why? Because we all have feelings, and just because we feel a certain way doesn’t mean we act on those feelings.
ILL - Sometimes when people cut me off in traffic, I have a great feeling that I would like to make their car disintegrate… like with a laser beam or something. But I don’t.
I ask God to forgive me and to work inside me.
We need to do the same thing to others who are struggling with anything, We embrace them as long as they desire repentance.
If they don’t desire repentance and want you to approve of their sin, then that’s something you cannot do. However withholding your approval does not mean that you condemn them. Our culture almost demands that we are either for something all the way or against something all the way - two extremes. That attitude makes it difficult to accept someone but not approve of their sinful standards or behaviors.
One way to deal with this tension is to identify with their struggle. Coming across as self righteous or legalistic is a turn off for people. Nothing turns me off faster than a smug attitude… no matter what the situation.
When we show humility, authenticity, honesty or even humor when appropriate, we relate to people as human beings, person to person and eventually - heart to heart.
Once you connect at that heart level, they are way more willing to hear the truth that you know. When they know you and know that you are real and that you care about them, they may begin to want what you have… They want to know Jesus.
When people defend their actions based on their feelings, try to walk in their place...
You might say...
“You know, I struggle too. My feelings sometimes get in the way of the kind of person I want to be, the kind of person God wants me to be. I often desire things outside of God’s will for my life. While I’ve learned we can’t always change our feelings, we can evaluate them, see where they’re leading us, and ask God to change us”

5. Paint the picture of what it looks like to come home.

Luke 15:20 NLT
20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.
No matter what someone has done or not done, it’s never too late for God to forgive them and to transform their lives. Our job is to make sure they know this. We need to paint a picture of what it’s like to come home to the Lord.

Look for opportunities to build bridges and care for people every chance you get.

That’s what Jesus did. When he saw someone’s need, he met it, and then he addressed their spiritual need. Let those in your sphere of influence know you are always available to listen. Listen, Talk and Pray.
The goal is always to show a welcoming spirit… to leave the porch light on… They need to know the safe place that is coming home to the Lord.
Sometimes, when people wander off, it’s best to let them realize that what they are doing doesn’t work on their own. You might say ...
“If you ever change your mind—if you ever decide that your way isn’t working—if you ever find yourself in a miserable place and want to come home, I want to be the first person you call. I’m always willing to listen and help however I can.”
If you are willing to adopt these 5 approaches, you will struggle at times with what to say or how to respond to those around you. You might even struggle with your emotions as you respond to those around you… the key is to not give up or give in.
Daniel stood his ground. He let his boundaries be known. He didn’t argue or debate, defend or explain. He just made his boundaries clear with respectful and direct communication. As a result, Daniel shone like a beacon of light for 70 years… valued and esteemed by four different Babylonian regimes.
When the culture shifts, and it is and will continue, we stand firm on solid ground. In Christ, we have the hope that the world needs. And like Daniel, we can be catalysts for redemptive change, people of influence who know our goal is not to be right, but to be effective. We need to be people who will stand when it’s easier to bow down or give in to the culture. People whose light shines bright in the darkness of our sinful culture.
What do you have to offer? Jesus.

Let them see Christ in you!

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