Thriving in Babylon
About the Guest
As believers, what is our role in the culture? Larry Osborne, senior pastor at North Coast Church in Vista, California, calls believers to leave behind our "scaredy cat" Christianity and remember who the Bible says we really are-pilgrims in a foreign land. He reminds us that we can remain faithful and victorious in a godless culture, just like Daniel did in Babylon. Larry shares the best way to influence those who don't share our faith.
Larry OsborneLarry Osborne has served as a Senior Pastor at North Coast Church in Vista, California since 1980. The church has grown from 128 to over 11,000 in weekend attendance, and has been honored as one of the ten most influential churches in America for its pioneering efforts in the multi-site movement, sermon-based small groups, and its creative approach to shared leadership. Larry’s books include Thriving in Babylon, Accidental Pharisees, Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret, Sticky Tea...more
Larry Osborne calls believers to leave behind our “scaredy cat” Christianity and remember the Bible says we are pilgrims in a foreign land. He shares the best way to influence those who don’t share our faith.
Thriving in Babylon
Bob: As we begin a new year, we are increasingly aware that those of us who hold to a biblical worldview will be at odds with our culture. So, how do we deal with that, as individuals, and in our families, as parents? Here is pastor and author Larry Osborne.
Larry: One of the things I’d encourage parents to do is run through the Book of Daniel with their children with a different lens than we often use in Sunday school. I always sort of grew up thinking Daniel was an adventure story for children, but it’s really a primer for adults about how to live in a godless culture. And from the very beginning, we have the ability to teach our kids the way that Daniel responded to all the situations around him.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. There are a lot of lessons we can learn about being ambassadors for Christ by looking at how the Israelites lived during the time of the Babylonian captivity during Daniel’s day.
We’ll explore all of that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, we have heard for years people talk about Europe becoming post-Christian. Do you think America is, today, post-Christian?
Dennis: Let’s ask our guest.
Bob: That’s a good thought!
Dennis: He lives in Southern California.
Bob: And they may be more post-Christian than any place else? [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, you can see the country from there—there’s no doubt about it. [Laughter] Larry Osborne joins us on FamilyLife Today. Larry, welcome to—welcome to Arkansas.
Larry: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Dennis: Glad to have you! What do you think about Bob’s question?—you’re a pastor.
Larry: Well, I definitely think we are much more like Europe than many of us think—that it’s much more of a post-Christian culture.
Bob: There are more people going to church every Sunday in America than go to church in Europe. So, there is still some fiber of church or spirituality that runs through the American culture; but it does feel like the ground is shifting under our feet as we live in America today.
Larry: Yes, I think that is a very important observation because my understanding and experience of the difference between Europe and here is the fact that we don’t have a history of a state church—pretty much means that we didn’t have people that were just part of the church for power—but they were part of the church because they were followers of Jesus and, at times, for cultural reasons. There is a big difference there. So, what we have is much stronger churches, I believe, here; but at the same time, the culture, as a whole, is completely biblically illiterate.
Out, where I live, if they pick up the Book of Job, for instance, they think it is Jobs because of Steve. [Laughter] They’ve never heard of the trials of Job. Many of the things we kind of assume are part of the culture—in the last 35 years or so—have really disappeared because the children who were raised in that are now the people that are 30 to 40 years old—
—taking major reigns of leadership throughout our country, and businesses, and education, and everywhere else. So, it’s very post-Christian that way.
Bob: Well, and the kids who are being born in America today—you go out 30 years, and you wonder where we’re headed; don’t you?
Dennis: And you are in the process of giving leadership to a lot of folks out on the west coast. You started the church back in 1980 that you continue to lead today—North Coast Church in Vista, California. You’ve grown that church to more than 11,000 people. It’s been recognized as one of the ten most influential churches in America.
You’ve raised your own family out there; and now, your three adult children are in the process of raising your four grandchildren in this era that Bob’s discussing here. How are you coaching them to raise those children in this time?
Larry: Well, I think one of the key things is we simply think like a missionary. If you go into the mission field, you go there and you say: “You know what? We are here to have influence,” and “We are, also, here to infiltrate the culture, to understand the culture, to adapt to the culture; but our goal is to realize that we live differently, but we live within this new framework.”
That’s pretty much what I try to do with my own children as we raised them—is to say: “We are going to live in this culture. We’re not going to get into our little holy huddle and run away; but at the same time, we are going to live a different life than what you are experiencing out there in your day-to-day experiences.”
Dennis: One of the things that you point out in your book, Thriving in Babylon, is a lot of families today are operating out of fear.
Dennis: They are looking at what’s happening that is coming against their marriages, their children, their grandchildren. I think, even within the Christian community, Larry—I think we are way too fearful of what’s taking place instead of being opportunistic as followers of Christ.
Larry: Yes, I call it “Scaredy Cat Christianity.”
Sometimes, it comes from those of us—that are pastors, like myself, or sometimes, radio shows, or whatever—because we talk about the things that are happening that are negative, and we want to put a stop to that tsunami of change that is taking place. So, at times, frankly, we even overstate what the problem is so that people are—if you will—aware of it. Well, the unintended consequence of that is people begin to live in fear.
If I was to go back to—say, the Apostle Paul—and have a sit down with him and complain to him about the wickedness of the culture today, I think he would look at me and go: “What are you talking about?! Do you understand Rome? Do you understand I’m in prison right now? It’s not that I’ve lost a tax deduction. I’m in prison because of my faith.”
We lose the perspective of being people that are pilgrims in a strange land. If we gain that once again—and again, that’s what I tried to do with my family and with the congregation I lead to help them understand:
“This is an awesome privilege. God never puts us in any place that we are not capable of handling.”
Dennis: I think there are probably a good number of our listeners, who may not make the association that you want them to in the title of your book, Thriving in Babylon. Explain to them what was taking place in Babylon and why they, as followers of Christ today, are facing a similar set of circumstances.
Larry: Well, Babylon is the actual personification of evil in the Bible. In Revelation, when the angels cry out, right before Jesus returns, they cry out, “’Fallen! Fallen is Babylon...’” Well, what’s with that? Because Babylon is completely destroyed—a prophecy it would never be rebuilt—but in heaven, when they think about the evil of all evil, it’s Babylon. It’s not any of the things that we might think of in our day and age—
Larry: —as horrific. It’s not ISIS—as horrible as that situation is. It’s not Nazi Germany. It’s not Sin City. It’s—“’Fallen! Fallen, is Babylon [the great]...’”
And here, a young man named Daniel found himself in a place called Babylon, not of his own doing; and yet, he was able to lead—as you read through that book—three national revivals of people seeing the glory of the true God in the midst of a Babylon. So, as we’re becoming more and more like Babylon, my concern is we’ve become less and less like Daniel.
Bob: And the thing about Babylon—it was not just morally corrupt. It’s a godless culture. Well, I say godless—they had all kinds of gods that were pagan gods that they worshipped but nothing to do with the one true God at all; right?
Larry: It was the epitome of evil: “’Fallen! Fallen, is Babylon…’” When Jesus returns, that’s what the angels talk about whenever they talk about evil personified.
Dennis: If you think about Daniel—if there has ever been anyone who typified someone who faced down his fear and was a courageous follower of God in his day, it would certainly be him. I mean, the stories of this young man—of what he did at early ages in his life are remarkable.
Larry: Yes, they are amazing to me. And one of the things I’d encourage parents to do is run through the Book of Daniel with their children with a different lens than we often use in Sunday school. I always sort of grew up thinking Daniel was an adventure story for children, but it’s really a primer for adults about how to live in a godless culture. And from the very beginning, we have the ability to teach our kids the way that Daniel responded to all the situations around him.
One of the things I love is the very opening of the Book of Daniel. He says something that no one ever pointed out to me—and it was that, in the third year of King Jehoiakim, God gave Jerusalem over to Nebuchadnezzar. So, before he starts his story, he says, “Not the foundation / but the cornerstone you need to understand of everything that’s going to follow is that I believe God’s in control of who is in control.” That changed everything about the way Daniel interfaced with his culture / his captors—evil Nebuchadnezzar—and all that was around it.
Bob: It is hard for us to look at a passage like Romans 13—which talks about the fact that God is over government, and God appoints leaders, and God puts people in place—and we think, “That can’t mean that leader.” But that’s what the Bible says; isn’t it?
Larry: Yes, it does. There are times and places—many of them, where I wonder, “God, what are You up to?” But last I looked, I’m not His consultant—He’s my God.
Dennis: And as you write your book, you talk about how Daniel suffered; but he suffered for doing what was right, not for doing what was wrong. And you talk about how the innocent are going to suffer along with the guilty. I think, today, as we train our children and as we, as adults, engage in this culture and attempt to stand for Jesus Christ, we’re going to have to learn what it means to suffer for doing the right thing.
Larry: Yes; Peter says, “Do not think it a strange thing when you go through a fiery ordeal…”
But let’s be honest—when any of us personally faces a fiery ordeal, we suddenly step back and go, “Where’s God?”
Here I am, a pastor, with all the years of being a shepherd, and studying the Bible, and all that—when my wife came down with some cancer / when we faced a financial meltdown, at one point in our lives—immediately, my first response is, “God, what’s up with that?” So, we constantly need to be reminded that, on this side of heaven, that suffering is a part of the deal.
And those of us that don’t experience a lot of it—or when we’re in a time of history where the persecution / or a place where it’s minimal—that what we are—is blessed. This is not the normative situation. It’s just a—it’s a blessing of God and enjoy it, but don’t panic if there comes a change.
Dennis: One of my favorite quotes I give to single women, I think, is one that relates to followers of Christ today in the circumstances that we are facing. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said this—he said, “Faith is the refusal to panic.”
I think there are a lot of moms and dads who want to protect their children from evil—that’s not wrong. Absolutely, they’ve got to protect their children; but they shouldn’t wring their hands and rail against the culture because this is where God has planted you to be a difference-maker.
Bob: Yes, but what do you do, if you are a mom or a dad, and you’re sending your son off to second grade and you just read in the paper that they’re going to start teaching kids in second grade about all kinds of gender-related stuff that’s non-biblical / stuff that doesn’t match your worldview. You can see where a parent gets a little alarmed: “We’re sending Johnny off to school, and he’s going to come home indoctrinated with something we don’t believe!”
Larry: That’s part of a problem where we have given over to other people the spiritual growth of our children. We expect our schools to educate them / the church youth group to lead them to Jesus and grow them up. As a parent, it is my job.
My kids actually faced that exact same thing.
You know, I’m a pastor in a large church. I am a pastor—so they were almost in a holy huddle. So, we chose to send them to a public school for that—and I realize each family has to figure out what God’s call is, whether it’s homeschool, Christian school, or public school—but we sent them to a public school that certainly didn’t necessarily share the values. But it was an incredible opportunity for me, when they would come home with different things, to say: “That’s what many people think, but here’s what truth is. These people aren’t our enemies. These are people we have been called to love and to influence.”
Dennis: Give our listeners an illustration of something that did happen with your kids coming home from school—because we did the same thing. We homeschooled to about the fourth or fifth grade; and then, we put them in public school. It gave us enormous opportunities to speak into the moral uprightness of that school—to speak to the principal / to the teachers—but to do it in a winsome way. And it was around all kinds of issues; but I’m wondering—in Southern California, how did you face that?
Larry: I think, particularly, one time, there was a movie shown that was a movie we would never let our kids see. They came home, and that movie had been shown. It wasn’t, “We’re going to show it,”—it had been shown. My kids—I could just see the relief when they let us know that. We didn’t overreact because the last thing a kid wants is for me to suddenly be running to the school, or to the newspaper, or whatever and embarrassing them.
So, we just sat down and said: “You know what? Here is why we think that was a bad decision. Here’s what I see is wrong with that particular movie,”—and at the same time, saying—“You know what? People make mistakes. Our job is not to go on warfare because we’re not at war. We’re in the persuasion business.”
Now, I used younger terms than “persuasion business”; but we had those kinds of experiences all the time—teaching on sexuality / teaching on politics—it was completely different than what I would tell my kids. And it just, each time, became a great opportunity to say, “You know, a lot of people think that way.” And here is something I always wanted to teach them:
“The people who believe differently than we do are not stupid or evil.
Larry: “They are coming at it from their experiences. So, let’s look at it this way,”—and not that everybody is right—but if I could teach them to not demonize their opponents, then, we have a chance to win them over. That was one of the most important things—that I wanted to raise my children to love Jesus and have a heart for other people.
Dennis: As you shared that story, I couldn’t help but think of the time when one of our kids brought home a book that he was being required to read. We went, asked for a meeting with the English teacher, and affirmed her as being one of—if not—the top teacher in the school. We were attempting to do what you just described—not only teach your child to stand up for what’s right—but also, in how you stand up and how you treat other people. We affirmed the dignity of that school teacher and just appealed to her—to say, “Can’t you find another book for our son to read?
“This is really inappropriate in some spots.” We took our son with us into that meeting.
Dennis: And it was really good from an accountability standpoint because I can become a little prophetic in standing up for justice and what’s right; but with his eyes on both, Barbara and me, it was a good accountability for us, as parents, wanting to train him to, not only stand for what’s right, but also, in how we do it.
Larry: Well, you know, there is another side to this whole thing; and that is, part of our philosophy, at this point, was, “I want my kids to experience these things when I’m around to help them process it.”
I’ve seen, over and over, parents that were so concerned that their kids would not be contaminated. They just don’t realize—there is going to come a time when you are not around. So, there is this sense of: “I don’t like these things, but they are out there.
“So let’s discover them now, where I’m close. I can speak some wisdom into it, and they can see I don’t panic.” Boy! That has paid huge dividends with my kids.
Bob: The way the two of you described interacting with people in authority—teachers, school officials, or people in authority—going respectfully / making an appeal—really, similar to what Daniel did when he was told, “You’re going to have to eat this diet,” and it was not the diet that a Jewish boy was supposed to eat!
Larry: Absolutely. One of the things that fascinated me, when I put on the lens and said, “I’m going to read Daniel as an adult primer on how to live in a godless culture,” all kinds of things I suddenly saw that I hadn’t seen before. One was the level of respect that runs all the way through all of his relationships with wicked people. I believe it’s the third chapter—or fourth chapter, rather—where Nebuchadnezzar is going to receive a judgment from God for his arrogance and evil. When Daniel tells him the interpretation of a dream, he doesn’t say:
“Man! I’ve been praying for this a long time. I am so happy to deliver this message!” He says, “O king, I wish it was anybody but you!”
After he’s been thrown in the lions’ den inappropriately, he doesn’t scream at the guy who threw him in there—he’s just gracious. And there is an incredible model of being respectful. In Thriving in Babylon, I call it hope, humility, and wisdom; but humility is a nice word we can hide behind. But if you want to know what humility looks like in your house, and your interactions with your neighbors, it looks like respect. And if we want to teach our children to influence people—and we, as parents, want to influence people—they’ve got to think we like them. Nobody has ever been influenced by somebody who didn’t like them.
Think about that in your own life. Whenever you meet somebody that you think looks down their nose at you, or doesn’t respect you, or like you, you get defensive—and so does the world out there.
Bob: So, let me ask you a question that puts you on the spot a little bit. You’ve mentioned talk radio.
You’ve got Fox News and you’ve got MSNBC on different sides of the political spectrum. You watch them during the evening. Is that helping us learn how to thrive in Babylon?
Larry: I don’t really think so. In fact, when I find panicked Christians, I’ll ask them to go on a diet because—and it’s a media diet. I say: “I want you to start reading the Scriptures and what they say about the fact that we win. I don’t have all the details of Revelation figured out—some of my friends do—[Laughter]—but I do know this: Jesus is coming back and we win. So, if that’s actually true, then, where’s the panic coming from?”
There’s an old thing in the computer world—GIGO—garbage in / garbage out. There are plenty of sources that keep their ratings by keeping everybody afraid and aware of the newest little thing. And I’m not saying there are not things to be concerned about—there are plenty of things to be concerned about. But if I am just spending too much time listening and watching, then, my concern level is going to go up.
I don’t think everybody should go on a diet from those things, but I do think the people—and I literally had some friends that, “How in the world do you live with joy in the midst of all of this?” And I asked them, for six weeks, to go on an absolute diet of—and I named some of the shows or whatever— “Just stop listening, and let’s talk.” Six weeks later, he said: “Larry, it’s amazing. I’m sleeping at night.”
Larry: I go, “Well, because you are not taking a fear pill every night before you go to bed.”
Bob: But you still tune in occasionally; don’t you?
Larry: I don’t, but I read a lot. So, it’s not like I’m living in another world.
Larry: So, no, you’ve got to be aware; but there is a point at which your awareness causes you to almost start believing every conspiracy theory. I call it the crisis du jour.
Some of your listeners will remember Y2K and all the horrible things that were going to happen. And here’s the problem with the crisis du jour—I was running around, telling all my friends, “No, the world’s not going to end at the year 2000 with all the computers, and cars, and planes crashing.” But I couldn’t prove my point until January 1st of the year 2000.
Bob: Right. You still don’t have a generator; do you?
Larry: No, I don’t. [Laughter]
Dennis: As you’re speaking, I can’t help but think of this verse for our listeners—it’s Matthew, Chapter 5, verse 14: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp, and put it under a basket, but on a stand; and it give light to all in the house. In the same way,”—and this is the key phrase here—“In the same way, let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
The challenge for us today is to be righteous hard-pursuing followers of Jesus Christ; but at the same time, to put on His kindness, His love, His compassion, and engage the culture at its points of need so that, when they see us standing for what’s right—
—and I know this is true about your church, Larry / you shared some things before we came into the studio that—they’ll see your good works—they’ll see that you’ve refurbished some schools in the Southern California area; and your church is not huddled up, pointing its finger outwardly at people who are sinful; but in essence, trying to pierce the darkness and offer the light that does give hope to all people.
And I just want to encourage moms and dads—you are raising the next generation of messengers. Prepare them for the time that you’re not going to see, but they will. They have to be ready to be moms and dads, someday, with a biblical approach to raising children. Even though their day will have different issues, they are going to be challenged as well.
Bob: Well, and I think what we’re talking about here is that this is going to demand a new level of intentionality on the part of moms and dads. We’re going to have to be purposeful.
That’s where having resources—like the book that Larry’s written, called Thriving in Babylon: Why Hope, Humility, and Wisdom Matter in a Godless Culture. It’s a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to request your copy of the book.
We also have information about Dr. Russell Moore’s book, Onward:—which is on the same subject—Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. These would be great books, by the way—if you’re in a small group at church—great for you all to go through this material together and to talk about how you live this out in your city. Again, the books are available at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. It’s 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY,”—to request either the book, Onward, by Russell Moore or Larry Osborne’s book, Thriving in Babylon.
One of the reasons that we are encouraged, here at FamilyLife, in the midst of the cultural shift that is taking place—we’re encouraged to believe that all is not lost—is because we hear from listeners, all the time, who say, “What you guys are talking about, what you stand for, how you represent the Bible—we’re with you.” They are cheering us on.
In fact, here at the end of 2015, we’ve heard from a lot of FamilyLife Today listeners who knew that we had a matching-gift offer going on. They called and said, “We want to be a part of that because we want to see that thrive in 2016.” And we don’t have the final numbers yet on whether all of that matching gift was met; but I just want you to know—there is reason for hope, even as we see things shifting in our culture.
And I want to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who do support this ministry. We couldn’t do it without you, and we’re grateful for your financial support. Anytime you’d like to make a donation, you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and donate online; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY—
—donate over the phone; or you can mail a donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223. And we do appreciate hearing from you.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue to look at lessons we can learn from the life of Daniel, living in Babylon, to figure out how we can represent Jesus in America in the 21st century. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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