I want to share with you the story of a teenager named Daniel. I want to describe something that happened to Daniel when he was about the age of a junior in high school.
Daniel was born at a time of great religious revival. He lived in Judah. And Josiah, the king of Judah, had instituted numerous religious revivals. The king became kind of a national preacher. Prior to this, the nation of Judah had strayed from its faith foundation. All kinds of undesirable influences had crept into Judean media, arts, politics, religion and the marketplace. But the King attempted to resolve all of that. Daniel was born during this time—a time when biblical faith was making a comeback in the culture.
In today’s terms, Daniel’s parents could have turned on a TV for young Daniel and every program on that TV would have been faith-based. They could have turned on the radio for Daniel and every song would have been a praise and worship song. They could have gone to Barnes and Noble and found shelf after shelf filled with books that affirmed the Jewish faith. Any book that promoted an alternative worldview would have been eliminated. They could have taken Daniel to his first movie theatre where all of the current movies would have been have been faith-based. None would have contained cursing, nudity, or violence. They could have taken little Daniel to the museums and found sculptures and paintings depicting scenes from Jewish history and the Scriptures. The entire culture into which Daniel was born was faith-affirming.
But when Daniel was about sixteen, all of that changed:  1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal familyand of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace….6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. (Daniel 1:1-7 ESV)
Judah’s arch-enemy Babylon attacked Judah, especially the city of Jerusalem. And Daniel is one of several young men who were of the royal family or of some nobility in Jerusalem. They were forcibly removed from their home in Jerusalem and marched to Babylon.
And Babylon’s culture would have been the exact opposite of Judah’s culture. Where Judah’s culture affirmed Jewish faith, Babylonian culture attacked Jewish faith. For example, as a symbolic gesture, the king of Babylon—Nebuchadnezzar—took sacred items from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and placed them in a temple to the Babylonian god back home. It was his way of saying that when you lived in Babylon, the only god that mattered anymore was the god of Babylon. You may as well forget the God of Judah. 
In addition, a representative of the king had the names of Daniel and three of his friends changed. The original names of the four young men contained references to the Old Testament God: Daniel means ‘God is my judge’; Hananiah, ‘Yah has been gracious’; Mishael, ‘Who is what God is?’ and Azariah, ‘Yah has helped’. But each of the new names–Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego–contained a form of the name of a pagan god.  Thus, while Daniel’s original name was faith affirming, he was given a new name that was faith-denying.
This was a culture famed for its magicians and sorcerers. Their literature included omens, magic incantations, myths and legends, and astrology. They believed in many different gods. Thus while everything in Judean culture at Daniel’s birth would have been consistent with his faith, much in Babylonian culture at Daniel’s exile would have been contrary to his faith.
If 16 year old Daniel turned on the TV in Babylon, he now couldn’t find a single program to affirm his Jewish faith. When he turned on the radio, every station played songs that seemed to attack his faith. If he went to the movies, he couldn’t find a single movie that didn’t offend some of his Jewish sensibilities. If he went to the bookstore, he found shelf after shelf of books affirming a religious viewpoint in contradiction to his own. If he went to a museum, he would have to leave because every painting and sculpture seemed profane.
Daniel could have responded to that Babylonian culture in the way that many churches in this country have responded to American culture. In his book Culture Making, Andy Crouch says the instinctual response of many Christians to American culture is “condemnation.” Some churches find nothing redeeming in any part of American culture and condemn all American culture as profane, secular and harmful.
For example, author David Kinnaman tells of a musician named Sam. Sam was very talented. At one point, one of his songs was snagged by a TV network for use on one of their teen dramas. But Sam’s Christian friends were upset that Sam had allowed his song to be used by the network. In their opinion, network TV was profane and Sam should have used his skills to write Christian music for Christian networks.
I think of a Christian friend from my youth. He had been taught that any kind of dancing was profane. Good Christians did not dance—ever. Then, during his senior year, he was chosen as Homecoming King. And a girl whom he’d known for much of his life was chosen as Homecoming Queen. It was a tremendous honor, especially in our tiny community. But, of course, there was a Homecoming Dance. And the King was expected to share one dance with the Queen. My friend agonized for days over whether or not he should participate in that one dance. Only very reluctantly, and literally while weeping, he danced with the Homecoming Queen. Immediately after that one dance, he left.
Of course I’m not suggesting that there’s nothing bad on TV and that all dances are appropriate for Christians. But there are churches whose basic stance toward culture is condemnation. Television, movies, art, and music are all profane. And we should protect ourselves from them as much as possible.
And this is the stance Daniel could have taken in Babylon. He could have thrown out his TV. Turned off all radio stations. Boycotted all movies and books. He could have formed a Jewish club with his three other Jewish friends and they could have shut themselves off.
But ironically, it’s that stance which is causing some people to leave the church. In his book You Lost Me, David Kinnaman writes of a study conducted among 18-29 year-olds in this country who have left the Christian faith. He found that there are six reasons why people are leaving Christianity. We’re covering these reasons in our series called “Fault Lines.” One of the reasons is this: the church is overprotective. The churches which these young people grew up in demonized everything outside the church. These churches saw nothing faith-affirming in the wider culture. And they created an attitude of fear and condemnation toward everything outside the church.
Kinnaman writes of the Grammy-winning rock band Kings of Leon. The group is made up of three brothers and a cousin. The three brothers grew up with a father who was a Pentecostal preacher. They were not allowed to watch any movies. They could listen to no music but church music. They were not even allowed to wear short pants—even while waterskiing. The brothers point to this overprotectiveness as one of the reasons they left church.
Daniel could have taken this stance toward culture in Babylon.
Or, Daniel could have taken the opposite stance. In his book Culture Making Andy Crouch says that some churches respond to the culture in this way: consumption. Rather than condemn culture critically they just consume culture liberally. Without any thought as to whether something is helpful or harmful to their faith, they just consume culture’s movies, music, literature, and art
I had a friend in college who was active in our campus ministry. One year he decided to get involved with the city theatre. The theatre culture there was vastly different from our faith culture. But he wanted to engage that culture. He was a gifted actor and got significant roles in several plays. But over that year, we began to notice changes in our friend. Several of his new theatre friends were hostile to Christianity, used crude language, and were sexually active. Our friend began to adopt their values. And before long he dropped out of our church. He had consumed so much of the culture unthinkingly that he became just like it.
And Daniel could have decided to do something similar. He could have thrown off the Jewish faith of his youth and become as Babylonian as possible.
But God called Daniel to something different. God called Daniel not to condemnation or consumption but to cultivation. In his book Culture Making Andy Crouch uses this word “cultivation” to describe Christians who engage culture in order to make positive contributions to the culture. And this is exactly what God called Daniel to do.
Let’s return to the story: 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. 8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” 11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. 16 So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. 17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. 21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.
God called Daniel to undergo three years of learning the literature, history, and customs of the Babylonians. Rather than condemning culture, God called Daniel to become cultivated in the culture. The result? He was able to made significant contributions. Daniel embarked on a royal court career that lasted nearly 70 years. For nearly 70 years Daniel served in the heart of the most non-Jewish culture he could imagine. He aided kings, assisted rulers and provided counsel to those in high positions. He didn’t hide his unparalleled skills from the Babylonian culture. He used them within that culture. In fact, the author says in Dan. 1:20 that “in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.”
But while Daniel embraced much of the Babylonian culture so that he could serve within it, he did not consume it unthinkingly. He maintained certain boundaries. And one of them had to do with the king’s food. Daniel refuses to eat the food from the king’s table.
His refusal does not seem to stem from some sense that the food is unclean or profane. Instead, he probably objects to what the food symbolizes. To consume the food and wine of the king was to share fellowship with the king, and thus to assume some sense of loyalty to the king. There is a similar use of this language in Dan. 11:26. There a group of people are described as people who ate with the king. And there is surprise that even these who ate with the king broke away from the king. That is, eating with the king means you are loyal to the king. Daniel thus turned down the food and wine from the king’s table because did not want to undercut his loyalty to God. God was the only king in Daniel’s heart.
God called Daniel not to condemnation or consumption but to cultivation. Daniel did not condemn the all Babylonian culture and cut himself off from it. Neither did he just consume it all unthinkingly. Instead, he cultivated a God-given space within that culture, embracing many aspects of the culture so that he could have influence within it, but rejecting elements that tested his loyalty to God. And because of this, Daniel was able to make a positive contribution.
What God’s calling for today are Christ-followers willing to do the same. People like Highlander Perry Cain using his expertise to help award-winning Running Pony Productions excel in its video work. People like Highlander David LaVelle using his abilities in orthopedic surgery at the renowned Campbell Clinic. People like Melissa Thompson using her marketing and human resource skills with Crye Leike. People like Jay Perdue using his media skills at Saint Jude. People like Tammy Philips, news director for Memphis’ News Channel 5.
While serving in Christian non-profits and faith-based agencies and on a church staff is praiseworthy, it’s not the only way to serve God. God’s calling some of you to serve in that way. But he’s calling more of you to serve by being the most hardworking, skilled and Christ-like accountant you can be, teacher you can be, administrator you can be, musician you can be, or parent you can be. I’m thrilled that some of the youth at Highland want to be youth ministers or missionaries or preachers. But I also want to encourage the youth to imagine being called to engineer for a major company, serve as a scientist in a large research conglomerate or cook in a local restaurant. God may be calling you to be person of faith who makes a powerful contribution in the marketplace.
In many ways this is what Jesus does. Jesus leaves the holy space of heaven and the safety of the purest and most holy friends he has—Spirit and Father. And Jesus engages our culture. He puts on our culture, including our flesh. He becomes a local carpenter and then a traveling teacher. And he changes the world. Jesus does not stand aloof from and just condemn our culture. Neither does he unthinkingly consume our culture so there is no difference between him and us. Instead, Jesus cultivates a God-given space within culture. He adopts all he can in order to draw near to us. He rejects what remains contrary to his holy nature. And in so doing, he changes the world.
I want to close with the story of one Highlander, Tammy Philips, who has done this very thing:
 This timeline is based on that in Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). Tyndale Bible dictionary. Tyndale reference library (348). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
 Freeman, J. M., & Chadwick, H. J. (1998). Manners & customs of the Bible (383). North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers.
 New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.) (Da 1:3–7). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Baldwin, J. G. (1978). Vol. 23: Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (88–89). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Andy Crouch, Culture Making (IVP, 2008).
 David Kinnaman, You Lost Me (Baker, 2011), 95-96.
 Ibid., 95-112.
 Baldwin, J. G. (1978). Vol. 23: Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (91–92). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.