Thursday, April 10, 2014

Recipes for the Babylonian Captivity: Guarding against Temptation in a Consumer Society

The question I'd like to ask is this: How do we go about living in the highly consumeristic society within the United States, and western culture overall?  It's a challenging question and the answer might not be as obvious as we might think.  

There are ugly little truths that hide just beneath the surface of our suburban paradise.  Our material prosperity has lead many to walk away from God, hate God, mock God, and deny God's very exist.  The result has been secular humanism, the idea of the superiority and flourishing of man, fueled by science, inherently quite useful, turned into a religion and worldview unto itself.  The result of materialism and the glorification of man in his career and sexual prowess has *ding* you guessed it, led to spiritual bankruptcy, addiction, depression, and depravity of all kinds.  

Let's go even further, because our country's surface has a great way of convincing one that it's all for the good.  That's the surface view, the average modern American in the suburbs, the city, and so on.  The picture is of school buses, green lawns, super stores, cherry pubs, and shadow lit marble top restaurants.  We've even got culturally bent churches, come once a week, play holy-time and head off for another week of sin.  

Now here we are, actual Christians, who actually believe and know Jesus is alive and well in heaven at the right hand of Father God.  We know everything around us is temporary, we know for a fact that soon all things will be made new, and we will literally enjoy a new world where God has made all things new.  We're saved from the fate of this backwards little smoke in mirrors society of the US of A.  We are no longer consumers, we are Christians, servants of the Lord God, by the work of Jesus Christ.  

When considering recipes for the modern Babylonian captivity one must ask: Are we captives?  We are stuck in the flesh until this world ends and our bodies are renewed for membership in the eternal city, on the eternal planet designed and built by the Author of life, the eternal Lord God of Heaven and Earth.  We are not living in a Holy nation, despite what some conservatives might say, or what optimistic liberals might claim.  This is not the Israel of old.  I'm not saying the United States is the Babylon of Revelation, though it could be, but it certainly does resemble the Babylon of old, the nation King Nebuchadnezzar ruled over. 

Daniel 1:3-7 (NET) The king commanded Ashpenaz, who was in charge of his court officials, to choose some of the Israelites who were of royal and noble descent— young men in whom there was no physical defect and who were handsome, well versed in all kinds of wisdom, well educated and having keen insight, and who were capable of entering the king’s royal service—and to teach them the literature and language of the Babylonians. So the king assigned them a daily ration from his royal delicacies and from the wine he himself drank. They were to be trained for the next three years. At the end of that time they were to enter the king’s service. As it turned out, among these young men were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. But the overseer of the court officials renamed them. He gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar, Hananiah he named Shadrach, Mishael he named Meshach, and Azariah he named Abednego.

In the book of Daniel we see that the nation of Israel had been judged by God.  God allowed the Babylonians to invade and take captive Israel, and they were forced to live in exile in the foreign nation of Babylon.  When they were brought to Babylon, certain Israelites were selected to be brought up in the courts of Babylon.  It's interesting what they tried to do, first they gave them new names, and then they tried to acclimate them to Babylonian depravity, by feeding them fine foods and giving them fine clothing.  Daniel was very wise in his response.  He refused the food tactfully, by requesting vegetables from the guards arguing politely that he would grow stronger by eating vegetables instead of all the fine foods of Babylon.  He also did not keep the name he was given, but continued to use the name Daniel.  

Daniel 1:8 (NIV) says "But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way."

There are two important lessons here, first Daniel separated himself from the luxuries of the culture.  He mindfully and tactfully refused to indulge.  We can do the same.  The small compromises we choose to make can very easily lead to larger compromises in the future.  We can eat simple foods, wear simple clothing, and be careful stewards of our possessions and money.  The second lesson, notice Daniel did not consider himself to be Belteshazzar.  He knew his name was Daniel.  We are not consumers.  We are not employees.  We are not evolved apes.  We're children of God.  Know your identity, as Daniel knew his in a foreign land.  Daniel was careful regarding sins inherent in the culture of Babylon.

We need to be careful regarding sin.  A lot of the sins in our society are just beneath the surface.  Some of these things aren't even sins, it's just best to avoid these areas.  So I'm going to walk through a list.  I'm going to list a truth, followed by what our response can be as Christians in exile:

Truth: Many of the Super stores we shop at employ barbaric business practices.  The most notable of these is Wal Mart.  Wal Mart in no small way, treats their employees very poorly, and worse they use near slave labor practices in foreign countries to create their products.  Learn more by viewing this documentary called: "Walmart: The High cost of Low Price"

In general many manufacturers, and super store companies will use products made in foreign countries, so it's a hard thing to avoid.  But as Christians, we ought to be mindful of such compromises.  There are many other companies that engage in ugly business practices, such as Apple, as well as others. 
  Response: Shop consignment when possible. Without even realizing it I found myself shopping at places like Goodwill, where almost all the products are donated, reused.  I shop at consignment.  Or I purchase from Salvation Army thift shops or Lutheran thrift stores.  That can be a small way of standing against human slavery.  I tend to shop at Aldi's for my food.  I'll go to second hand stores and dollar stores for my daily needs.  And it's hard to be perfect in this area, but we can be intentional about learning to get by with less.  Not only do we support reusing products, we also stand against human slavery, as well as train ourselves to be humble in our property and appearance.  Not to mention it just feels good to do it this way.  I can't explain exactly why, but it just does.  So give it a try.  

Truth: The music you listen to is communicating messages to your subconscious.  Symbolism, lyrics, messages.  Artists like Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Eminem, and so on contain lyrics that will impact your mind negatively.  You'd be surprised how many people, a lot of them Christians will miss this entirely.  The culture is communicating demonic images, symbols, lyrics and messages via music.  It just is.  In fact it's becoming more and more obvious in it's presentation of such.  Just watch a few minutes of MTV or VH1 (if you dare).  It's scary.  Watch a Miley Cyrus music video, or Jay-Z.  I see even a glimpse and I'm aghast.  Can't people see the blatantly obvious?  So be careful what you're listening to.  This actually happened to me recently, I was listening to Death Cab for Cutie, an indie rock band that I've enjoyed over the years.  Soon I realized I was listening to lyrics that were quite atheistic.  Same thing with another of my favorite bands, Dismemberment Plan.  It's everywhere.  Just as God works through us, the enemy will communicate his messages through non-believers.  

Response: Just be careful.  I'm not saying you have to, have to, have to switch to all Gospel rock all the time.  Not at all.  Just be cautious.  Pray, and use discernment.  It's not rocket science, if Eminem is making a horn symbol with his hands on his forehead, don't listen to that music!  If Miley Cyrus is half naked twerking on a guy in a demon outfit, turn that music off!  What are you people stupid?  A blind moron could tell that this is use of depravity and demonic imagery to impact children.  "Oh shes just expressing herself" wow, what are you a hollywood apologist?  Get real.  Its intentional, and it's wicked, back away Christian brother.

Truth: Movies are also communicating messages to your subconscious.  Sex, sex, sex.  It sells.  Of course it does.  Violence, blood, gore.  Some people want to dress up like zombies, some people want to dress up like survivors.  It is making an impact on your mind.  We all have certain desires to be part of epic adventures, to be a righteous hero against evil. Those desires are God given, and we can use them in our efforts at being powerhouse Christians in the world.  But what if the movies we watch are our attempts to meet those internal desires?  What if we're vicariously living through the adventures of superheroes like Batman and Luke Skywalker?  Maybe we need to start being aware of how much of our healthy desire to make a difference are being gulped up by thrilling movies.

Response: We can still enjoy movies to a certain extent.  Just don't go overboard, where it's becoming an addiction to television or media.  If you're starting to care more about the latest releases then about Jesus, *ding* red flag.  Total abstinence is possible, if you'd like, or just have healthy boundaries and limits on how much you'll watch.  Gather your healthy desire to make a difference, and sign some online petitions.  Post on social media regarding Jesus.  Volunteer at a local homeless shelter or food pantry.  Start a prayer group or Bible study.  Start a blog even.  Eventually I got rid of my television.  But then I spent more time on my computer.  I'm a work in progress, but I don't watch as many movies today.  I live instead.

Truth: Television commercials are designed to successfully tempt you into indulgence.  Of course they are.  That's how money is made.  Here look at this ice cream sunday.  Don't you deserve it?  Here look at this beautiful half naked woman, if you drink this kind of vodka you'll have her for sure.  You need this kind of insurance, look at this brutal car accident, that could be you, see how much you need it?  Diabetes testing supplies, kitchen supplies, furniture, books, music, clothing, fad products like Iphones.  Look at this majestic valley, and oh my, look at this shiny new car.  We affirm your individuality, if you buy this car you're a true outdoorsy rebel.  You wouldn't want to be left behind would you?  You need this product.  

Response: It's a barrage of enticement and temptation.  Learn to shut off the television.  Angle your furniture so it's not all facing the television.  Better yet, put the TV in storage.  Invest in a book case.  Cancel the cable, limit yourself to basic channels.  Or get rid of all channels, and limit yourself to occasional movie rentals only.  However far you wanna go with it, it's your choice.  Just consider the larger implications. 

Truth: Being a sports fan can lead to idolatry.  Sports are fun, sports are awesome, sports are great to watch.  No sin in any of that.  But when you've got tens of thousands all dressed up, drunk, screaming and shouting, surrounding a field where sports are being played, you've got something that would look a lot like congregational worship.  Is our internal desire to worship being gulped up by following sports?  Is our internal, God given desire to follow and be a part of something special... being drank up by our allegiance to certain sports teams? 

Response: Enjoy in moderation.  Consider wearing a sweatshirt with scripture on it, instead of a Green Bay Packers logo.  Get a Jesus saves bumper sticker, instead of that New York Giants emblem.  Redirect your passion to the support and propagation of the Kingdom of God.  That's the best team to be on, it's the best team to root for, I'm 100% on that one.  Plus it really means something and it really matters, forever. 

Truth: Time is very important.  Consider how your time is being spent.  Are you having to work more often, and spend less time with your family because of unhealthy spending?  The culture says "time is money."  Well they're wrong.  The truth is, money costs time.  Time is infinitely more important than money.  The enemy, the evil one, when you've got lots of good things happening in your life, will try to squeeze you by claiming time.  It'll appear quite innocent at first, take some extra overtime at work, spend more time refining the bills to save every possible penny.  Pretty soon prayer time is squeezed out of the schedule, so is Bible study, and eventually the television is spending more time with the kids then you are.  Not good at all!

Response: Budget responsibly, learn to exist on less, and then allow yourself to work less.  50 hours a week is ridiculous.  In my view, 40 hours a week is too much as well.  Shoot for 30-38 hours a week.  Spend more time with your kids.  They need it so much, they really do.  Television is tempting them left and right, media is exposing them to sex at very young ages, their media role models are druggy sex addicted psychos like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, public school pushes scientific evolution as complete fact always all the time, and the doctor wants to force feed them amphetamines and anti-depressants.  They really really really need you mom and dad.  They really do.  Make time, and make even more time to teach them, instruct them, guide them up in all truth of the Bible and Jesus Christ.  Please, I'm begging you, gather the time.  

Truth: Prescriptions medications (like anti-depressants, ADD meds, anxiety pills) are screwing with your head.  Believe it.  The number of recalls alone should trigger bells and whistles.  In my considerable experience, of being addicted to medications like Adderall, Clonazepam, and Ambien, Doctors downplay consistently how addictive and mind-altering these chemicals are.  It's just scary.  Anti-depressants are just as bad.  I've been on Prozac, Lexapro, Cymbalta, and many others.  These medications are hard to get off of, and the true impact they make on the human brain is still largely a mystery to medical professionals.  

Response: Regard the Babylonian medication industry with severe skepticism.  Medications can be a wonderful thing, for diseases as well as some mental concerns.  However, we've taken it too far.  Giving such young children amphetamines is not just a bad idea, it's downright wicked.  Of course there are exceptions.  But many of our children are not those exceptions.  In addition, research birth control options to make sure what you're using isn't an abortifacient.  Don't ever take any bio implants.  It's not science fiction.  They already regularly "chip" household pets.  And now they're starting on children.  "In case they get lost."  Of course.  Be careful.  Recall the book of Revelation.  "The mark of the beast" in the right hand or forehead.  This stuff is real folks, it's in the Bible, get on board with it.

Truth: Processed foods, and genetically modified foods are making you sick.  There is a reason you have so little energy.  The FDA is very lax on how they monitor GMO foods (Maybe because a former Monsanto lawyer is the current head of the FDA).  In fact they aren't even required to be labeled.  You can thank Monsanto for that one.  Chances are almost all the foods you eat are both processed and genetically modified.  This was really eye opening for me.  If you'd like to learn more, a good documentary on the food industry is called Food Inc.  Click to view it. Also here is the trailer for a documentary called "Fat, Sick, and nearly Dead."  It discusses GMO foods and suggests juicing as a healthy alternative.  Consider renting it.

Response: Obviously switching to an organic food diet is the solution, but unfortunately I'm not able.  Because organic foods are so ridiculously expensive.  I'm too poor to eat all organic, so I definitely understand that this is a tough one.  But I try to at least be eating lots of vegetables, fruits, and nuts, even if they are genetically messed with garbage that's polluting my body.  Oh well, it's a goal for the future when I'm not quite as broke. 

Do you see how almost none of these issues of truth are readily apparent in our society?  Our media and television are very good at quietly avoiding the truth behind so many of our cultural practices as Americans.  Why?  Because media relies on advertisers for funding.  Advertisers of course want to make sure consumption is encouraged... you get the idea.

As Christians we don't have the luxury of ignoring these issues.  We know we'll all be called to account one day.  Thankfully Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to evade judgment and eternal damnation.  But while I'm on Earth, I want to please my heavenly Father whenever possible.  So I want to be considering these issues.  

I know it's a lot.  Make small adjustments over time.  Pray to the Holy Spirit for help discerning these issues.  We all have grace enough for all our failings.  For me, I want to be the best Christian I can be.  That means going against the stream when needed.  Remember what Daniel did?  He made up his mind, and stood his ground.

Daniel 1:8-21 (NET)But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the royal delicacies or the royal wine. He therefore asked the overseer of the court officials for permission not to defile himself. Then God made the overseer of the court officials sympathetic to Daniel. 10 But he responded to Daniel, “I fear my master the king. He is the one who has decided your food and drink. What would happen if he saw that you looked malnourished in comparison to the other young men your age? If that happened, you would endanger my life with the king!” 11 Daniel then spoke to the warden whom the overseer of the court officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12 “Please test your servants for ten days by providing us with some vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who are eating the royal delicacies; deal with us in light of what you see.” 14 So the warden agreed to their proposal and tested them for ten days.
15 At the end of the ten days their appearance was better and their bodies were healthier than all the young men who had been eating the royal delicacies. 16 So the warden removed the delicacies and the wine from their diet and gave them a diet of vegetables instead. 17 Now as for these four young men, God endowed them with knowledge and skill in all sorts of literature and wisdom—and Daniel had insight into all kinds of visions and dreams.
18 When the time appointed by the king arrived, the overseer of the court officials brought them into Nebuchadnezzar’s presence. 19 When the king spoke with them, he did not find among the entire group anyone like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, or Azariah. So they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and insight the king asked them about, he found them to be ten times better than any of the magicians and astrologers that were in his entire empire. 21 Now Daniel lived on until the first year of Cyrus the king.

Daniel didn't flee for the hills to become an Amish.  He didn't start a hippie colony on the fringes of society.  He stayed where he was, but resisted temptation.  He drew lines in the sand against indulgence and compromise.  Meanwhile he remained in the society to engage it, and God blessed him for doing so.