Assimilation vs Transformation

I’ve begun preaching a series of sermons on the book of Daniel. While I was studying Daniel 1, I thought about Nebuchadnezzar’s policy of bringing captives back, especially in the case of the nobility and royalty, like Daniel (1:3).

The Babylonians certainly had a variety of motivations for this policy.

  1. The young nobles could serve as far-off hostages.
  2. The taking of captives would demotivate the people.
  3. Jerusalem would be left with a future leadership void, a brain-drain.
  4. Babylon could prepare future puppet kings who would both be accepted and loyal to the Babylonians.

Of course, in the story, we get the idea that this is the hand of God, not just some crafty old king.

When Nebuchadnezzar takes these guys, he goes to great lengths to work on these young men.

He first separates them from their families, by way of a 1,500 mile road trip. This isolates them from anyone like-minded. There wouldn’t have been many Hebrew-speaking, Yahweh-worshipping, Kosher-eating guys in the headquarters of Babylonian idolatry. Then he obligates them to loyalty—giving them gifts, training, and promises of a great future. These gifts introduce a quid-pro-quo relationship with their Babylonian captor/patrons. Indoctrination comes next as they are taught the “literature and language” of the Chaldeans. Instead of telling the old stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they’re schooled in divination, sorcery, and idolatry. Finally, they are given new identification. Their old, God-honoring names are stripped away, and they are given names loaded with pagan meanings.

The purpose of these steps (separation, isolation, obligation, indoctrination, and identification) was simple: assimilation.

Nebuchadnezzar wanted these young men to be Hebrews in name only. He wanted conformists to his way of doing things.

If you’re familiar with the story of Daniel and his three friends, you already know that’s the very thing they were unwilling to do.

It strikes me that today we face similar pressure. Our busy lives tend to separate us from those who share our like and precious faith. We’re isolated when we face temptation. The world tries to drive us into trusting it, being enslaved by career, hobby, mortgage…anything that can ensnare us. Our sitcoms and talk shows pipe out indoctrination 24/7. “Live the American dream.” “Have it your way.” “You deserve it!” We become more identified by our jobs, our hobbies, and our families than by our savior.

And before long, we’ve been assimilated. We’re just one more traveler down a broad and easy path…a path that Jesus said leads to destruction.

Let’s be aware of what’s going on. Let’s act intentionally to do something different. Let’s try what Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2)


Memories lie

pinI’m reading this book called The Invisible Gorilla. That’s a story for another day, but that’s where this came from…

We don’t have a very good grasp on our memory. Most of us know that we forget things, but other than that, we trust our memories. Sciences has proved, time and time again that we’re not quite as reliable as we like to believe.

Here’s a fun little experiment:

Take this list of 15 words. Give yourself about a minute to look over it, read it, and memorize it. There will be a test…

Bed, rest, awake, tired, dream, wake, snooze, blanket, doze, slumber, snore, nap, peace, yawn, drowsy

Got it?

I tried this experiment at Burns. I put the word list on the screen at the beginning of our services, read the list, and explained that there would be a test later.

At the beginning of the sermon, I asked everyone to write down the words from the list. I gave them about one minute to do so.

Once time was up, I asked for a show of hands for who remembered each word. I started with “bed.” About 90% of people raised their hands. (We do best with firsts and lasts, by the way).

I asked how many got the word “rest”. About 75% raised their hands.

I asked how many remembered “awake.” About 50% raised their hands.

I asked how many remembered “sleep.” Again, about half raised their hands.

The only problem? “Sleep” wasn’t on the list, but half our people remembered it vividly.

Our memories aren’t as good as we think they are. We forget things that happened. We remember things not quite as they actually happened. Sometimes we look back on the good ol’ days and only remember the good. (“If only the church could recapture what we had in the 1950’s!”) Sometimes we look at the past and see it all as old and out of date. (“We’re the first ones to discover grace!”)

Neither is entirely accurate!

Let’s be careful about trusting our memories a little too much. No wonder scripture is so filled with activities to remind us of where we are, where we have come from, and where we are going. The past is a beautiful place. The future is an exciting place. But the only place you and I live is the present!