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Choose to be Holy.

In the first two chapters of the book of Daniel I have been struck by the amazing character and personality of Daniel. He was a man of integrity, a brave man, a strong and faithful man. Daniel and his friends were taken as slaves. They were chosen because they had characteristics that were considered desirable to the culture he was in “young men, without physical defects, handsome, showing aptitude for learning” (Daniel 1:4). They were men who fit in with the culture they were taken into. But they also knew who God wanted them to be, and when it mattered, they had the integrity and bravery to stand up and stand out for what was important to their faith and to God (Daniel 1:8).

In societies today we can feel a great need to “fit in” with those around us. But we are also called to be “set apart” for God. Daniel and his friends “fit in” enough to be wanted and to be taken in and accepted but they also had the integrity to stand out when it really mattered. On a daily basis I’m sure I do a lot of things to “fit in” I dress a certain way, I talk about topics that those around me want to discuss, I wear makeup, I listen to modern music...I have taught myself and been taught by others how to act and behave in a way that means I am accepted by the culture and society that I live in. And for that I am really grateful, it’s given me the ability to communicate with my peers, to form friendships and to feel a part of something, to not be an outcast. “Fitting in” isn’t a bad thing and I'm sure we can all agree that it feels nice when we do “fit in”. But like Daniel, we are called to stand out, to be set apart for God, and sometimes leaving that comfort zone of “fitting in” can be scary.

I remember being at primary school and hearing a lot of my friends starting to swear and curse. We were young children and so when I didn’t start cursing too, the other called me out on it. I knew it was bad and I knew that I had been taught not to, but in the pressure of the moment, I used the Lords name in vain, I said “oh my God!” and immediately the other kids accepted me as one of them. I “fit in” but I also found myself overwhelmed with guilt and shame. I prayed almost straight away afterwards, apologising to God and asking for His forgiveness. Since that day when I was so young and desperate to fit in, I have made the decision not to swear. It wasn’t worth sacrificing my integrity and damaging my relationship with God to “fit in” with the other children. Now this might seem like a 'small' example of integrity and standing out, but as an adult, the fact that I don’t swear is pointed out to me quite regularly as I meet new people, and instead of feeling ashamed or like I don’t “fit in” I take pride in being recognised as different and “set apart for God”. Also, as I've grown up, I've found myself making more decisions in my daily personal life to stand out and be “set apart”. Like Daniel, I “fit in” enough to be accepted and to be welcomed by those around me, but when it counts and on the big issues, I choose to be different for God. This quality in Daniel, the decision to be holy and “set apart for God”, allowed him to bring transformation in a foreign culture. He didn’t fight the new culture he found himself in, and he didn’t surrender to it, what he did was far greater than rebellion or defeat; he remained true to himself and to His God and in doing that, he inspired change. Now I cannot claim to have the strength or the integrity of Daniel, after all he made a stand when he was a slave - probably in a culture of fear and the unknown and I make my stands as a free woman in the culture I have grown up in and know - but I do know that even my little stands and choices that make me different inspire change. Because I don’t swear, my friends and some of the people closest to me have often said that they don’t like to swear around me - I haven't told them that I don't like it when they swear, I haven't fought them on the topic, but they've seen the difference in me and choose to reflect that when they are near me. My living for God inspires transformation and change in them, and that is the power of God at work in me. Making a decision to be different for God, to be humble and gentle and to have integrity and strength when it matters changes the atmosphere of the culture you are in and it can be an incredibly powerful thing. Being positive in a negative culture, or choosing not to eat certain foods (like Daniel did), or not swearing in a society that does, actively being good in a bad situation makes you stand out for God and it brings His power into the world to inspire transformation and change. This brings with it a new challenge. Being “set apart for God” means letting people know it is “for God”. People recognise the difference in you, they see that you stand out and are unique, but that is meaningless if the glory doesn’t go to God. Speaking out about faith and God isn’t always easy and it’s not a conversation you can force others to have with you. But when people recognise that you are “set apart” you are called to tell them it is for God. When people notice that I don’t swear, and ask about it, I could say that I find swearing offensive and so don’t do it myself, that would be valid and reasonable and to be honest people would probably think that it’s a really nice and good thing about me, but the glory wouldn’t go to God and that is the purpose I am supposed to be serving. So instead, when people ask, I try to tell them that I am a Christian, that I am choosing to be holy and to live my life for God, and that swearing wouldn’t honour Him and so I don’t do it. This isn’t always easy and it often makes that step out of the comfort zone of “fitting in” even more uncomfortable, and if I'm being completely honest with you, I am not always brave enough to have that conversation. But sometimes God calls you to do the uncomfortable, to step out and make a stand for Him. I pray that when the time comes, you and I have the integrity and strength of Daniel to be “set apart for God” and to give the glory to Him when you’re given the opportunity.

We aren't all called by God to be "set apart" in the same way, and often we are called to be different in lots of ways. Daniel was called to be different in what he ate, I feel called to not swear, you're calling could be not to engage in certain activities, not to watch certain TV programmes, or not to listen to certain music...whatever your call to "stand out" (and there will probably be a few), approach it with, strength and integrity. It's okay to "fit in" but when God calls you to, I hope you can choose to be "set apart for Him", and I hope you can have the pride and bravery to give the glory to God.

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