“Welcome to the Jungle: Choose Your Character”

We continued our series “Welcome to the Jungle” at Gateway in Austin.

What do you do when you face fears about the future, concern for your security, or the discouragement of a world that seems to be falling apart at warp speed? With lessons from Daniel, a hero in the Hebrew Scriptures, we can discover how to walk boldly and humbly in ANY environment we go into, even in the “jungles” of life as we carry with us hope, wisdom and empowerment to make an impact in our circles of influence.

God cares about the stand you take privately than the stand you take publicly.

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner,   life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning. 

Digging Deeper

Message Audio from Gateway South Austin:

Message Video from Gateway South Austin:

Message Notes:

Ever fear growing up to be like your parents? 

You know our true character is revealed in the trying times of life.

Like when you were treated unfairly? How did you respond?

“How Do I Struggle With This?

One time as a pre-teen, I was falsely accused of doing something that actually had been my little brother’s fault. My dad insisted on punishing me in spite of my pleas of innocence. So he spanked me. Any of you get spanked? Don’t worry, as far as i know CPS doesn’t have a time machine. 

Wouldn’t you know it, a couple of days later Scott confessed, so my dad came to me to apologize saying: “You were right. I should have believed you. To show you I am sorry, you can spank me.” 

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! This was too good to be true! I don’t know what he was thinking?!?  I think he thought I would say: “No Father. Your humility and offer is enough. I forgive you.”

That’s not how I responded at all! Instead, I said, and bear with me y’all, i know this is weird: “Ok, put your hands on your knees!”

I took a couple of steps back as I whipped off my belt as if I was Indiana Jones with his whip. With a running start, I spanked my dad as hard as I possibly could! It is one of my fondest childhood memories! And now you see why I did recovery lol.

He ran around the room and yelled out: “Why did you hit me so hard!”

I said: “Because you let me!”

My mom used to tell us, “Wait till your dad gets home!” After that I imagined her telling my dad, “You just wait till Eric gets home!”

Sadly, vengeance is our go to move. 

What was in my heart towards my parents was exposed by my actions.

My response to an accidental injustice was an even uglier issue – a lack of character. 

“How do we all struggle with this?”

We all struggle with this. We say one thing, but we think another. We are one person on social media and another person in real life.

It’s called hypocrisy. We don’t like it in others, but it’s hard not to be one ourselves. Now, I am not just talking about how people of faith are called hypocrites. That is a problem and one we need to overcome. All of humanity struggles to actually be consistent with their own values and morals and even personal goals.

A hypocrite is a person who claims to have certain beliefs, values, or principles, but behaves in a way that contradicts those beliefs. Hypocrites often pretend to be something that they are not, and may speak or act in a way that is insincere or deceitful. They may also criticize or judge others for doing things that they themselves do or have done. In general, the term “hypocrite” is used to describe someone who is not genuine or authentic, and who behaves in a way that is inconsistent with their stated beliefs or values.

For example, we hate injustice, but when have been treated unjustly in our broken human nature we want to get them back more than they even got us! If someone pinches us, we punch them. If someone hurts us, we want to destroy them. 

And our movies only affirm this desire for revenge. The Equalizer ( 1&2), Taken (1,2,&3), Revenge of the Nerds (1,2,3, and 4). We keep coming back for more.

Or we fantasize about revenge without even a conversation with the person who hurt us instead choosing to build our own list of people who cannot be trusted.

But let’s be honest, some of you have struggled to believe in the message of Jesus because so many of the messengers of Jesus lacked integrity, made awful choices, or even did evil things.

Let me just say this: avoid letting the worst people in life determine what you believe.Too many people claiming to be Christians represent Jesus incredibly poorly. Instead, examine faith and explore God for yourself. At one point in time you’ve had awful service at a restaurant but you didn’t give up on eating out. In the same way, don’t give up on a perfect God, because of the way flawed and imperfect people, all of US, sometimes misrepresent Him.

Look at the most consistent people and determine how they live the way they do.

“What does God say about this issue?”

God invites us to consider a better way, but this better way requires trusting Him and making the right choices privately and publicly. There are people of character who live out what they say they believe. They can be trusted publicly because they are trustworthy privately.

We’re in this series Welcome to the Jungle, looking at the book of Daniel. As we saw last week, Daniel and the Jewish people have been exiled to Babylon–they are captives in what they consider an evil Kingdom (maybe like you feel in your workplace). The temptation to by hypocritical–to go against your beliefs to save your skin is enormous. Yet in chapter 1, we see an example of Daniel–who is publicly just an overflow of who he is privately.

In the book of Daniel, chapter 1, we see an example of how who a person is publicly should be an overflow of who they are privately. Let’s pick up the story in verse 3. 

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— 4 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.

In this passage, Daniel and his friends are taken captive by the King of Babylon and brought to the royal court. 

Daniel and his friends had lost everything! From nobility in their home country to being kidnapped and taken hostage in a hostile country. It is quite likely that these men were castrated as was the custom in order to control them. Hopefully your boss isn’t that controlling! Perhaps they felt just lucky to be alive.

They are given the opportunity to receive the best education and training, which likely consisted of demonology, astrology, and divination,  but they are also expected to eat the food and drink the wine that has been offered to the gods of Babylon. And you though your workplace was a mess!  Some of the food was probably considered unclean as well. It could have included meat that may not have been drained of blood, as required by Jewish law or that was likely often used as ritual offering to the Babylonian god Marduk and his divine son Nabu.

So what do they do?

8 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. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 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 1:3-5,8-10

Now it’s interesting because Daniel didn’t decide to quit serving. If he had, he would have probably been killed and then there would not be the story of a hero who stood up for what he believed, interpreted dreams, rose to prominence and influence among the pagan government, and even discovered some of the mysteries of God. He decided trust God that he could not compromise his faith and still serve the King well.
The young men were given new names which it seems they went along with.

Daniel also didn’t refuse to learn the language or the literature.

But when it came to the food, eating it would have been violating the laws of God for their people at that time.

It’s important to remember: we are not called to die on every hill. We are called to die to ourselves, and not violate God’s commands.

Daniel and his friends decide to stand firm in their faith and request that they be allowed to eat only vegetables and water for ten days, to see if they are not worse off than the other young men. They trust in God to provide for them and protect them.

Now, as followers of Jesus, we do not have the same food laws as the Israelites while they were trying to survive in the wilderness. You see, in the New Testament, the followers of Jesus who were Jewish discovered what God required for being right with him. It wasn’t the food that made a person unclean but their thoughts and their actions. Eating meat and especially bacon were totally permissible and even eating meat sacrificed to idols as long as it didn’t cause others to stumble.

By the way, this message isn’t about veganism or vegetarianism or being a carnivore. We all have different thoughts on that, and we should respect each other on that. 

For example, I have a friend who is not a vegetarian for ethical reasons. He doesn’t believe it’s ethical to eat anything that cannot run for its life. 

Daniel doesn’t get all publicly upset about being in a foreign land, or under a wicked king, that he’s getting a degree in the occult, that they changed his name, or even that he’s a eunuch. Daniel was more concerned with honoring God than satisfying his fleshly desires.

Who would have blamed him if he had gone along with all the new things? When in Babylon, do as the Babylonians do! More than likely his parents, aunts, and uncles had all been killed or had compromised. None of them would be around to nag him to remember their laws and traditions.

Daniel was sincerely devoted to God. Even when the official pushed back on his request, he had a clever response.

11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 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.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. – Daniel 1:11-14

This was very important to Daniel, and he believed he was doing the right thing – even willing to take the risk.

15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. – Daniel 1:15-16

I am quite sure the other young men who were enjoying the royal rations were not fans of Daniel after that!

You see, sometimes having character makes other people uncomfortable. Sometimes you will not be liked or even mistreated for doing the right thing.

But noticed how God blessed them for their sacrifice.

17 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.

18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 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.- Daniel 1:17-20

As it turns out, their faith is rewarded, and at the end of the ten days, they are found to be healthier and better nourished than the others who had been eating the royal food. This demonstrates that who they were privately – faithful and committed to their beliefs – was reflected in their public lives, and ultimately led to their success.

God will bring supernatural provision, when we make decisions that require supernatural help.

They were stronger not because of their diet, but because of a decision to follow God

This reminds me of another verse describing how God is most concerned with our hearts – which is quite different than how people prioritize others.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

In the same way, we too should strive to live our lives with integrity, so that who we are privately is reflected in how we live publicly. This requires us to be true to our values and beliefs, even when it is difficult, and to trust in God to guide and sustain us.

I hope in this new year, you are making growing spiritually a priority in your life. I hope you jumped into Pray First last week! So powerful!

Coming on Sundays. Joining a group. Serving others. Learning to be generous. And spending time with God on your own is an important way to do just that!

For me this year, one of my new commitments is that I have been reading through the New Testament and posting some insights and ideas every day on social media. It’s a bigger task than I realized and a bit overwhelming to be honest, but it has been so good for me too.

I have been in awe with the way Jesus describes this New Kingdom He has brought. And when we choose to follow Jesus, we are citizens of this Heavenly Kingdom and are to bring more of heaven to wherever we go on earth.

Specifically, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount describes an entirely new way of looking at reality. He invites us to become like Him which is impossible by the way without his help!

Like this from Matthew 5

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ – which by the way, this is an Old Testament law designed to keep people from punching who were only pinched. It was a law extending mercy and equality. 

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:38-44

This teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5 has greater theological implications than just “hit me again”, and this time put some heat on it; or go the “extra mile”, so that you can look good in front of the Romans; or give them your tunic so that you can be generous people. The teaching is much more profound than that.

What Jesus is saying in this teaching to the disciples, is for them to enact their “humanness” in face of evil. For the Romans, to engage in what Jesus is laying out, would be for them to acknowledge that these first-century Christians were human, and they meant something.

This is so hard to pull off, but if we learned to do this our world would be turned upside down!

In the same way, Dr. Martin Luther King invited us and those of his time to see the humanness of African Americans.

In fact, did you know that Gandhi and Dr Martin Luther King., Jr whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow applied what Jesus said to gain freedom for their people in what has become known as civil disobedience?

When Gandhi was asked what he thought would solve the problems between Great Britain and India, he picked up a Bible and opened it to the fifth chapter of Matthew and said: “When your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in this Sermon on the Mount, we shall have solved the problems not only of our countries but those of the whole world.”

You see it was Jesus who taught us to deal with injustice with kindness. It was Gandhi and Dr. King who applied this to society and brought transformation.

As a child, I grew up wanting to be a combination of  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and comedian Andy Kaufman. I was born the day after Dr. King and the day before Andy Kaufman (which also happens to be Jim Carey’s birthday, and Jim Carey played the role of Andy Kaufman in the film Man on the Moon).

Now, I wasn’t actually sure how to do that, I just knew I wanted to help Dr. King’s dream come true, and I wanted to bring people together with laughter.

As I got serious about my faith and following God’s will and ways for my life, I found a sense of my calling in my twenties. There was a lot of trial and error. A lot of interacting with others. A lot of false starts. A lot of reflection on uniqueness, strengths, personality, ancestry, and passions. A lot of small acts of obedience, making things more and more clear.

After Deborah and I got married, we left the Dallas area to help start a church for unchurched people in Seattle. Four years later, we moved to Los Angeles to serve at a church where people could belong before they believed. Then in 2010, we moved to Austin (where only 13 percent of people attend church on Sundays) to be a part of Gateway, a church where you can “come as you are.”

In my thirties, I gained even more clarity when writing my book Not Like Me, about my journey of discovering God’s love for all people—even those with whom we disagree, dislike, or differ. In the book, I try to help people of faith love the way Jesus loves, and I share humorous stories to open hearts and minds.

I am nothing quite like Dr. King or Andy Kaufman, but I have found my own voice.

I am called by God to advocate for the rights of those who don’t yet believe!
I want to create space for people to share their struggles and doubts about God.
I want to help people to discover the God who created them and loves them and has a purpose for their life.
I want to help people, no matter where they are in their spiritual journey, discover a life-changing relationship with Jesus.
I want to catalyze community so that people from diverse backgrounds can experience the love of God and find their calling.
I want to mobilize followers of Jesus to bring more of heaven to earth, more love, more equality, more justice, and more of what God wants for us.

“What should you do about this?”

As followers of Jesus, we need the courage to be men and women of integrity—people who live their private faith beliefs with consistency in a public way.  That’s what will change our workplaces, schools, and organizations.  I love Dr. King’s quote on this, as he was clearly a follower of Jesus, not perfect, none of us are, yet willing to live sacrificially for what he claimed to believe.

“May I stress the need for courageous, intelligent, and dedicated leadership…. Leaders of sound integrity. Leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with justice. Leaders not in love with money, but in love with humanity. Leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause. God give us leaders. A time like this demands great souls with pure hearts and ready hands…Leaders who possess opinions and a will. Leaders who will not lie. Leaders who can stand before the demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking. Tall leaders, sun-crowned, who live above the fog in public duty and in private thinking.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

God is calling you too! 

Trust Him. Surrender your life, your hopes, your dreams, your regrets, your shame, your passions, and all to Him, and He will give you back so much more and something so much better! Let Him guide you.

We discover the BIG things God is calling us to do by being faithful with the small things we know all followers of Christ are called to do. 

Are we more concerned with our character than our reputation?

Our private character should always outweigh our public persona.

God can be in our IG bio but absent from how we live our lives.

“How can we all live this out together?” 

The world needs us to live out what we say we believe.
Our family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors need us to bring more love, more joy, more peace, and more of heaven to earth.

When we become people of integrity…
When we choose to have trustworthy character…
When we choose to serve those who need help…
When we choose to stand for those being treated unfairly…
When we stand up for someone mistreated because of the color of their skin…
When we choose to love our enemies…
When we stand against injustice with kindness…

We allow God to work in and through us because we are leaning on His help to live out our faith privately and publicly.

To become who God created us to be requires trusting God. It means we surrender our lives to Him and ask Him to forgive us from our self-centeredness, our self-sabotage, and our sins. You see Jesus died on the cross taking on the evils of humanity, but then He rose from the dead! He is alive and within all who follow Him! 

Something supernatural happened when Jesus shed His blood. Trusting that He shed His blood for you changes you. The Scriptures talk of the blood of Jesus as having the power to “cleanse us from all sin” and make us new. The shedding of blood also represents a covenant with God. 

Have you ever heard that blood is thicker than water? Originally this meant the blood of the covenant is more powerful than the water of the womb.

Free Consultation

If you're interested in a free 30-min consultation with me, simply fill out this form and I'll contact you!