It’s time to be brave
In the Old Testament Book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar builds a giant statue and commands his people to bow down and worship the image. The citizens of Babylon play along and bow to the statue – to do otherwise is a death wish. Nebuchadnezzar was a formidable leader who would not hesitate to eliminate dissent.
The statue itself holds no special powers but there is strong pressure to conform. If people want to ask questions or argue, there is a fiery furnace waiting for them. But in the crowd are three brave Jews – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refuse to play along. They believe that God alone is the creator of life and is the ultimate authority over good and evil.
They work for the king, but they will not bow to his statue. When their noncompliance is reported, the king gives them an ultimatum: bow to the statue or face the consequences.
For the past two decades of my adult life, I have shared the good news of Jesus with young people wherever and wherever I could. I had the good fortune to represent Jesus in the schools as a teacher and chaplain. I have spent many years leading youth ministries within the church and can often be found sharing Christ in camps and beach missions.
I often reflect on my own experiences as a teenager and how different the world is today. The world has changed dramatically in one generation. Young people today face problems that did not exist during my high school years. The world feels less secure than it once did and opposition to the Christian faith feels stronger.
In the 1966 Australian census, 88% of Australians identified with Christianity and not even 1% of people declared themselves to have no faith. Fifty years later, the 2016 census found no religion climbing to 30% and those identifying with Christianity falling to 52% of the population.
Followers of Jesus have felt societal changes over the years. As society changed, questions were raised about the legitimacy of scripture classes in public schools. These programs have been abolished in some states. We have seen marriage laws redefined in the Western world as lawmakers reacted to changes in the opinions of their constituents. Christianity, once central to many Western societies, now finds itself on the fringes.
The world has changed and for Christians it has been a rude awakening. It has left some believers mourning a world that once was and wondering if Christianity in the West will have a future or a funeral.
While it’s tempting to clench our fists with the world, Christians have scored more than a few own goals. Society has seen Christian leaders rise to celebrity status only to be undone by their personal lives. Church politics has seen damaging divisions and splits occur in some Church communities and, if we are honest, Christians have not always been great advertisements for the love of Jesus.
Compared to my teenage years, young people today are entering a world that is a much more difficult place to be a disciple of Christ. As in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, young people find themselves under pressure to bow before the statues of our time. Young people in schools find themselves navigating idols of sexuality, identity and tolerance for all ideas.
Young people are told that they can believe what they want, as long as they don’t dare to impose their ideas on others. They can worship Jesus, Buddha or a Flying Spaghetti Monster as long as they keep it to themselves. Add to this the addictive nature of social media which sees many young people connected to a device every moment of the day.
They may be trained in the Jesus way at a weekly youth group, but they are also trained in secular culture with every scroll of their smartphone.
The world has changed and Christians are responding to it in different ways. Some hide as much as possible from the world. Others rally to political leaders who promise to fight for their pet causes.
Some have assimilated into the culture to the point of blending into it. To these approaches there is a brave alternative.
don’t run away
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not run away in fear of Nebuchadnezzar, nor did they resort to angry protests. They bravely stood their ground and when given the opportunity to speak, they said to the king, without fear but with respect, “no”. By their courage, the king and the society of Babylon were touched.
I wrote Brave in the Making to equip young people to bravely stand up for Christ no matter what happens in the world. Published by Star Label Publishing, it is an action-packed, teen-friendly exploration of Christian courage in all its fullness. With incredible stories from the Bible and today, young people will be encouraged and inspired to follow Christ with courage. It’s time to be brave.