Daniel 1:1-21 – Cultural Humility

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.

Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.

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.Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So, he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

At the end of the ten days, they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So, the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found no one equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so, they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus. (New International Version)

Cultural humility is a humble and respectful attitude toward individuals of other cultures that pushes one to challenge their own cultural biases, realize they cannot possibly know everything about other cultures, and approach learning about other cultures as a lifelong goal and process.

Daniel is a much revered biblical figure. And for good reason. He exhibits the best qualities of humanity.

The mighty Babylonian Empire invaded Judah, tore down the wall of Jerusalem, seized the Temple, and carried off the best and the brightest Jews to Babylonia for service to the powerful King Nebuchadnezzar.

By the king’s orders, the young men were given to Ashpenaz, the head official, to be trained in the cultural ways of the Babylonians. And this is where it gets interesting. The interaction between Daniel and Ashpenaz is a master class in cultural competence and cultural humility.

Cultural competence emphasizes the knowledge of the person in the majority. Cultural humility, however, allows other people to share their own experiences.

Cultural humility is about curiosity. The real discovery, and real competence, is in knowing there’s something you may not understand about another individual or group. Being open to finding out or figuring out what that difference is, is the humble curiosity which can lead to new and good possibilities.

Daniel and the others were forcibly taken from their home. They are in a strange place and are not about to acquiesce in becoming Babylonians instead of a Jews.

Ashpenaz was given a clear task by the king, which was essentially to make Babylonians out of them. This could be an explosive situation. Yet, it wasn’t, because both Ashpenaz and Daniel were willing to have some cultural humility about their situation.

The humility of Daniel, his way of being civil and present, opened the way for Ashpenaz to listen. The young men did not want to go against their religious convictions. At this point, Ashpenaz took the way of humility. He learned something about these Jewish men under his charge. Instead of filing that information away in his head or in some papyrus library, Ashpenaz became open to Daniel’s suggestion.

And, as it turns out, both Ashpenaz and the Babylonians were much better off because of two men’s interactions based in humility. Furthermore, Daniel and the others navigated a dicey situation and came out holding to their integrity, not to mention their lives.

Ashpenaz was not only willing to learn about another culture (cultural competence) but took the next necessary step in letting that knowledge affect how he went about his job. The open discussion about differences is what led to belonging.

Today, we must realize that the idea you can arm yourself with a body of knowledge about a culture and believe that’s all you need to do, doesn’t give anyone or any culture much space to change. In other words, knowledge by itself isn’t being inclusive of another’s perspective or ways. Knowledge alone doesn’t bring connection between differing people.

We need people (you and me!) who are willing to be curious and take the understanding we have about another culture and pursue changing something that isn’t right in our own culture. We must have people who are humble enough to discern that our own cultures have their good practices and their bad approaches.

Daniel wasn’t obnoxious about what he wanted and didn’t decry or verbally attack Ashpenaz and the Babylonian culture. And Ashpenaz didn’t simply ignore Daniel and force cultural colonization on him and the others.

This interaction between two people was the seed which eventually led to the Jews leaving exile and returning to Jerusalem. I doubt that ever would have happened, had Daniel and Ashpenaz held tightly to cultural pride.

Holy God, who sent your only Son Jesus Christ to be crucified for our sins, have mercy upon me. May I follow in his example, leading and loving in great humility, for you oppose the proud but raise up the humble. Help me to be gracious, patient, loving, and kind in every interaction, especially with those who are very different than myself. Amen.

Proverbs 4:1-9 – Pay Attention to Wisdom

Listen, children, to a father’s instruction,
and pay attention so that you may gain discernment.
Because I hereby give you good instruction,
do not forsake my teaching.

When I was a son to my father,
a tender, only child before my mother,
he taught me, and he said to me:
“Let your heart lay hold of my words;
keep my commands so that you will live.
Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding;
do not forget and do not turn aside from the words I speak.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
love her, and she will guard you.
Wisdom is supreme—so acquire wisdom,
and whatever you acquire, acquire understanding!
Esteem her highly and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place a fair garland on your head;
she will bestow a beautiful crown on you.” (New English Translation)

Pay Attention to Instruction

Once, when I was a kid growing up on the farm, I was playing hide-and-seek with my brother and got lost in a cornfield. The stalks were taller than me, and I couldn’t jump up and try to see over them. I started to panic.

Then, I got my wits about me and looked straight up into the sky. Even though I was only seven or eight years old, I had looked up at the sky a bajillion times in my short lifetime. My dad had taught me how to read the sky and the weather above us. Fortunately, I had listened well and paid attention to all those times we looked up together.

I knew that the position of the sun in the bright blue sky would give me a fixed point of direction. Once I did that, I walked in the direction I was certain would take me out of the cornfield, trying not to let fear take hold of me. In no time at all, I was out. I lost the game of hide-and-seek. But I didn’t care.

Wisdom is personified in the book of Proverbs as a sage woman and a discerning counselor for whom we must hear and heed her advice. 

In the Old Testament, wisdom is the practical daily application of knowledge and understanding. It’s the ability to take the knowledge of God and use it in everyday life in a way that leads to human peace, contentment, and flourishing. There are two important aspects to wisdom. 

Pay Attention to Knowledge

First, the individual must possess some body of knowledge. If we are ignorant (without knowledge) then we have no ability to exercise wisdom. More than once, I rescued cousins and friends from the cornfield while playing hide-and-seek, because they didn’t have the same understanding of the sky that I did.

So, it’s absolutely imperative for us to actively seek understanding. It’s not going to simply drop into our lap. We must purposely strive to look up and see the Son, to view life from God’s perspective, and to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. 

To gain wisdom, we must become readers, listeners, and devoted learners. Why? Because without books to read, without spiritual directors to consult and listen to, and without adopting the humble posture of learning from others, we will never realize wisdom.

The telltale sign of one who fails to read, listen, and learn, is that they continually opine on everything with no evidence to back up their opinions, no insight into the human condition, and no grace in their language. In the book of Proverbs, such as a person is labeled the “fool.”

Pay Attention to Behavior

The second aspect to wisdom is that the individual must use the acquired knowledge to have good behavior and to live well. 

Knowledge by itself, apart from actual practical use, only produces puffed-up pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). The reason for accumulating understanding is to use it for the welfare of others, for the benefit of the common good. 

We have quite enough preening peacocks in this world who have answers for every earthly problem under the sun. This world needs much less of them, and more of those who seek the humility that comes from biblical wisdom. As the Apostle James in the New Testament once put it, we must be doers of the Word and not hearers only (James 1:22).

Wisdom is realized whenever there is learning that has come through both the head and the hands. Proverbs is a very good place to begin constructing a life of wisdom. Reading one chapter a day, for one month, will get you through the entire book. 

Make a wise plan to carefully go through Proverbs sometime this spring or summer. You’ll be glad you did. And so will those around you.

Pay Attention to Prayer

God of all wisdom, save me from pride and arrogance, and take me to the place where Christ’s humility is center stage, where I’m lifting up clean hands and a pure heart to you.

Spirit of discernment, take me to the place where I’m no longer looking with panic or anxiety at the cornfields and situations I face, but look up to you, where I can see clearly, and my decisions are flooded with your bright light, truth, and justice.

Jesus, teacher of all that is right and good, I submit to your instruction and humbly seek to live into your words and ways. I keep my ears open to receive your counsel, my heart open to receive your eternal wisdom, and my eyes open to see your risen and ascended glory.

Just, right, and wise God – Father, Son, and Spirit, the God whom I serve – know that I love wisdom. I desire it more than money, fame, or power. Help me to use biblical common sense, spiritual savvy, and Scriptural discernment so that I might learn the good and the beautiful. Amen.

Ephesians 1:17-19 – Receive the Spirit

I ask the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you his Spirit. The Spirit will make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God. My prayer is that light will flood your hearts and you will understand the hope given to you when God chose you. Then you will discover the glorious blessings that will be yours together with all God’s people.

I want you to know about the great and mighty power that God has for us followers. (Contemporary English Version)

I meet a lot of people in my line of work. And I cannot recall anyone ever telling me they want to be a weak and foolish ignoramus without hope in this world. No, but I do listen to the longings of people to be wise and knowledgeable, who yearn to brim with hope and be a blessing to others.

Unfortunately, many folk live with regrets. They didn’t seek the good, the true, and the beautiful when they had the chance to do so. They failed to realize that the kind of life they really want requires receiving, opening, and applying. I’m talking about the gift of the Spirit.

The Spirit is graciously given, so we must receive and utilize this ultimate resourceful Person.

Wisdom, knowledge, hope, blessing, and strength are the qualities and virtues which the Spirit of God develops within people. They are accessed by faith and prayer.

Today’s New Testament lesson, on the heels of Pentecost, is a heartfelt prayer of the Apostle Paul to the Church. He desperately wanted the Ephesian believers to experience the fullness of the spiritual power which was available to them.

It’s still a prayer to be prayed by believers everywhere and at all times. In fact, all the prayers in Holy Scripture are meant to be prayed by us, and not left as ink on a page, only to be gazed at a few times in life. Here are a few observations about this biblical prayer: 

  • Praying this biblical prayer makes every Christian a “Pentecostal” believer, whether you are a in a Pentecostal Christian tradition, or not. The Holy Spirit is the sine qua non of the Christian life, the distinguishing mark of a believer.
  • Praying this prayer is what God wants us to pray. The Holy God desires that the Holy Spirit provide us with spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we will experientially know God’s great power for us who believe. Out of all the things we might pray, this is a doozy of a prayer to pray!

Here is an invitation for you: Pray this prayer every day for two weeks, beginning today. Yes, every single day. Maybe even multiple times in the day. Pray it for yourself, your church, your family, your friends, and even for those who do not yet know they need Jesus. 

Pray for the Spirit to be manifested in all of life. After fourteen days, see if there is any change in your life, in your church, your neighborhood, your workplace, and in your relationships. 

There is no need to keep bemoaning the state of religion and the lack of spirituality in this world when we have such a prayer as this to pray. More praying and less complaining, please. Try it and see the difference it makes.

I highlight the need for intentional prayer because asking for the Spirit to show up isn’t always our reflexive response to most things. Instead, we tend to immediately rely on our instincts, abilities, ingenuity, common sense, or our relational connections, and even Google for answers to our most vexing issues.

In Old Testament poetry, the Spirit is sometimes likened to a wise woman for whom we need to pursue in gaining understanding. She will never disappoint but freely gives to all who will humbly ask.

You’re blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom,
    when you make friends with Madame Insight.
She’s worth far more than money in the bank;
    her friendship is better than a big salary.
Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth;
    nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her.
With one hand she gives long life,
    with the other she confers recognition.
Her manner is beautiful,
    her life wonderfully complete.
She’s the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her.
    Hold her tight—and be blessed! (Proverbs 3:13-18, MSG)

It would be great if we could simply fall asleep at night listening to someone talking positive thoughts, and then, wake up and be full of strength and wisdom. But it doesn’t work that way. The spiritual life is far from a chemical-like process of osmosis in which all the negative and stupid stuff gets filtered out with some positive thinking.

The blessings of wisdom and strength come through dogged pursuit, of going hard after Madame Insight and sticking very close to her. The Spirit is available. It’s just a matter of whether we will avail ourselves of God’s mercy, placed right in front of our faces.

Mighty God, I receive your Spirit. May the light of your gracious gospel flood my heart so that I will experientially know all of the blessings of Christ’s redemption and the incomparably great power available to me because of his finished work on the cross. Amen.

1 Corinthians 2:1-11 – Relying on Spiritual Power

Brothers and sisters, when I came to you, I didn’t speak about God’s mystery  as if it were some kind of brilliant message or wisdom. While I was with you, I decided to deal with only one subject—Jesus Christ, who was crucified. When I came to you, I was weak. I was afraid and very nervous. I didn’t speak my message with persuasive intellectual arguments. I spoke my message with a show of spiritual power so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power.

However, we do use wisdom to speak to those who are mature. It is a wisdom that doesn’t belong to this world or to the rulers of this world who are in power today and gone tomorrow. We speak about the mystery of God’s wisdom. It is a wisdom that has been hidden, which God had planned for our glory before the world began. Not one of the rulers of this world has known it. If they had, they wouldn’t have crucified the Lord of glory. But as Scripture says:

“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
the things that God has prepared
for those who love him.”

God has revealed those things to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches everything, especially the deep things of God. After all, who knows everything about a person except that person’s own spirit? In the same way, no one has known everything about God except God’s Spirit. (God’s Word Translation)

We need the Holy Spirit of God.

Without the Spirit’s help, Jesus is just one guy out of thousands who were crucified in history – merely an example of someone martyred for his faith. Yet, Jesus was infinitely more. Christians discern Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world. 

Because of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension, people can be redeemed from empty lives, saved from destructive life-patterns, and given the kind of security and purpose which God intended from the beginning. The Spirit’s role is to take these redemptive events of Jesus and apply them to our lives. 

Christian Trinitarian theology understands we are unable to see the truth about the cross of Jesus Christ unless God the Holy Spirit, sent by God the Father and the Son, breaks into our lives and does an intervention, showing us our denial about how we are really doing – as well as our delusions about who we really are.

Admitting we need the Holy Spirit of God means the power of Christianity and the Christian life rests with Jesus Christ and him crucified, and not with us.

We are, in many ways, powerless. I realize this is not a popular message, especially in Western society. Tell the average American they are powerless, and they’ll think you’re off your rocker. It sounds ridiculous. Some would argue that we have done quite well, thank you very much, on our own. We have a couple of cars, a house, a job, and a family. After all, we worked hard, and we did it.

However, any worldly success we gain, and getting the things we want, may lead us to the delusion we have the power to do whatever we want.

Oh, sure, we might reason, we have problems just like everybody else. After all, we cannot control everything.  But we are not completely powerless. Just because we have difficult circumstances and a few problem people in our lives doesn’t mean I am weak, right? God will step in a take-over where I leave off, right?…

Wrong. Apart from the Holy Spirit of God, we are unable to become Christians and live the Christian life.

If we believe we manage our lives fine, with some help from God, then we might be in denial about how much we place ourselves at the center of the world. Whenever our consistent response to adversity, or the realization we are not handling something well, is to try and fix ourselves, we are living the delusion we have the power to independently change.

A reflexive response in asking Google to find answers to our problems; or dealing privately with our personal issues; or expecting our willpower to be enough; or passively resigning ourselves to mediocre lives because we have tried to change or be different; then we are feeding the delusion we don’t really need the Holy Spirit of God. I just need more effort or information to overcome my problems, right?

Wrong. More won’t solve our issues. And when it doesn’t, we easily become discouraged. We might even chide ourselves for our inability to deal with problems.

Our real need is for the true power source of the Christian life. We need the Holy Spirit applying the work of Jesus Christ to our lives so that we can live a victorious life.

Unfortunately, it typically takes a tragedy or crisis to break our delusion of power – a bad marriage, a family member’s addiction, a runaway child, a terminal illness, a bankruptcy, a death.

How bad do you and I need to hurt before we will admit we are not managing our lives well, at all, and that the real power to change resides with the Holy Spirit?

There is power in the cross of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul believed this with all his heart. Although Paul was an intelligent and learned person, he did not rely on his abilities but on proclaiming the power of Jesus and him crucified.

The crucifixion of Christ was a past action with continuing and forceful ripples into the present time.

The cross of Jesus is more than an historical event; it is an ongoing reality to experience for victory over all the brokenness of this world and all the mess we have made of things putting ourselves at the center of the universe.

The Reformer, John Calvin, repeatedly instructed and encouraged his Geneva congregation that the Spirit joins us to Christ, assures us of salvation, and grows us in confidence through the Scriptures. Calvin, although a genius, did not rely on his intellect or abilities but insisted we need the Spirit’s witness to mature as followers of Jesus.

There are tough situations and incredibly sad realities which are mysteries beyond our comprehension. They defy simplistic answers and are greater than our attempts to explain them. Hard problems stretch our faith. And they ought to cause us to cry out to God and Christ’s Church for help because we are powerless to manage our lives.

We absolutely and totally need the Holy Spirit of God. Without the Spirit, we are lost. But with the Spirit we experience the saving power of Christ’s cross to deal with everything in our lives.

The Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that he will make all things right if I surrender to his will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with him forever in the next. Amen.