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 fearsome ruler who wouldn't think twice about eliminating dissent.
The statue itself holds no special power but there is strong pressure to conform. If people want to ask questions or argue, there's a fiery furnace awaiting them. But within 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 that he is the ultimate authority over right and wrong.
They work for the King, but they won't bow to his statue. When their non-compliance 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've been sharing the good news of Jesus with young people everywhere and anywhere I can. I've been blessed to represent Jesus in schools as a teacher and a chaplain. I've spent many years leading church-based youth ministries and I'm often found sharing Christ on 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 a generation. Young people face issues today that were non-existent during my high school years. The world feels less certain 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 revealed no religion climbing to 30% and those identifying with Christianity falling to 52% of the population.
The followers of Jesus have felt the societal shifts as the years have passed. As society changed, questions were raised about the legitimacy of scripture classes within state schools. Such programmes have been abolished in some states. We've seen marriage laws redefined across the Western world as lawmakers have responded to the changing views of their voters. Christianity, once central to many Western societies, now finds itself at the margins.
The world changed and for Christians, it's been a rude awakening. It's left some believers grieving a world that once was and wondering if Christianity in the West will have a future or a funeral.
While it's tempting to shake our fists at the world, Christians have kicked more than a few own goals. Society has watched Christian leaders rise to celebrity status only to be brought undone by their personal lives. Church politics has seen damaging rifts and splits occur in some Church communities and if we're honest, Christians haven't always been a great advertisement for the love of Jesus.
Compared to my teenage years, today's young people enter a world that is a vastly more challenging place to be a follower of Christ. Like in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, young people find themselves under pressure to bow to the statues of our times. Young people in schools find themselves navigating the idols of sexuality, identity, and tolerance for all ideas.
Young people are told they can believe whatever they want, so long as they don't dare put their ideas onto others. They can worship Jesus, Buddha, or a flying spaghetti monster providing they keep it to themselves. Add to that the addictive nature of social media that sees many young people connected to a device every waking moment of the day.
They might be discipled in the way of Jesus at a weekly youth group, but they are also being discipled into secular culture with every scroll of their smartphone.
The world has changed, and Christians are reacting to this in different ways. Some are hiding away from the world as much as possible. Others are rallying behind political leaders who promise to fight for their pet causes.
Some have assimilated into the culture to the point that they blend right in. To these approaches, there is a brave alternative.
Don't run away
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn't run away in fear from Nebuchadnezzar, nor did they resort to angry protest. They bravely stood their ground and when given the opportunity to speak, they fearlessly but respectfully told the king, 'no'. Through their courage, the King and the society of Babylon were impacted.
I wrote Brave in the Making to equip young people to bravely stand for Christ no matter what's going on in the world. Published by Star Label Publishing, it is a teenage-friendly, action-packed exploration of Christian courage in all its fullness. With incredible stories from both the Bible and today, young people will be encouraged and inspired to follow Christ courageously. It's time to be brave.