Daniel’s Character

Daniel LionsLast Sunday I preached on the Old Testament story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den.

The story took place during a dismal time in Jewish history. After being defeated in battle, Israel’s best and brightest had been exiled to Babylonia. However, a Jewish man named Daniel rose in leadership through his ability, integrity, and faith.

Through a series of providential events, King Darius appointed Daniel as an administrator to help oversee the kingdom. Darius was so impressed by Daniel’s character and faithfulness that he planned to place him in charge over the entire country.

However, other royal advisors envied and resented Daniel. They investigated the man of God thoroughly to find some fault against him, but they were unable to do so.

Listen to the assessment of Daniel’s character by his ENEMIES: “They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.”

It’s striking how Daniel’s enemies confirmed his good character! Their extensive investigations revealed NOTHING.

Daniel passed every these test with flying colors. In fact, his enemies ultimately decided the only way to trap him was through the faithful practice of his faith.

Daniel’s life was a witness for those around him. By the end of the story, even King Darius called the people to worship Daniel’s God.

May we live in such a way that even our enemies confirm our faithful lives.

God’s Word

This Sunday Northside Church will present Bibles to our third graders. We pray that the young people will become lifelong students of the Scriptures.

Children who are born and raised in our church family actually receive FOUR Bibles at various stages of their lives.

  • Newborn infants are given a “Children’s Bible” designed for toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary students.
  • The boys and girls receive a more “grown up” Bible in third grade. The content matches their intellectual and spiritual growth.
  • At the conclusion of the Confirmation experience, our sixth graders receive yet another Bible to use during middle and high school.
  • On “Graduate Sunday” in May, we give our matriculating high school seniors a fourth Bible to carry with them into adulthood.

During kindergarten, my grandmother gave me a King James Version of the Bible that I still treasure. However, I never could understand the Elizabethan English. Then my church presented me a Revised Standard Version of the Bible in fourth grade. It looked like an encyclopedia on steroids and weighed about a gazillion pounds.

During high school, I discovered The Living Bible, a paraphrase of the Old and New Testaments in contemporary English. Later in college, I “graduated” to the New International Version of the Bible before using the New Revised Standard Version in seminary.

Bible 2A young person who was exploring God’s call to ministry once asked me: “What did you do as a teenager that prepared you the most for the ministry?”

Without forethought, I replied: “I read the Bible. This spiritual discipline laid the foundation for my spiritual growth and pastoral ministry.”

The Psalmist wrote: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. If you want to know the Lord’s will and way, spend time in God’s Word.

You are never too young—or too old—to start.

Self-Image

We all create carefully crafted self-images. Perception shapes perspective, and personal perspective morphs into virtual reality. Mirrors reveal projections rather than reflections.

So we view ourselves as decent people, devoted children, faithful spouses, and loving parents. As a people of faith, we embody our religion, serving graciously and giving generously.

Even if we act contrary to our cultivated self-image, we dismiss these aberrations of the norm with relished rationalizations. The human Fall accounts for our lesser share of foibles and follies; but compared to others, we’re really not THAT bad.

We luxuriate in the myth that good character leads to appropriate action. After all, Jesus himself said that a tree reveals its inner nature by the fruit that is borne.

But what if our actions actually form our character, and what we DO trumps what we THINK? Looking back over the past day, perhaps my character is not REVEALED but DEFINED by my latest thought, word, or deed.

hand mirrorThen our carefully crafted self-images scatter like fragments of a shattered mirror.

The New Testament book of James preaches a practical Christianity. The author wrote:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25)

What we do determines who we are. Who we are determines what we do.

Blood Work

Our health insurance company encourages its clients to get an annual health screening provided free of charge. The blood work tests for a variety of conditions. So I faithfully scheduled my appointment last month.

Blood test, blood samples on a laboratory formThe first five minutes of the exam hardly filled me with confidence. The technician instructed me to wait in Exam Room 1. I opened the door to discover Exam Room 1 was pitch-black. Another office worker finally located the light switch to illuminate Exam Room 1.

The nurse checked the form and said the exam required her to measure my height and weight. I expected the process to include a scale and yard stick. I was wrong.

Instead, she asked, “How much do you weigh?” I responded with the appropriate three digit number which she scribbled down on a page.

“And how tall are you?” the nurse continued. I told the feet and inches which she recorded accordingly.

Then she stretched a tape measure around my waist. This concluded the cursory exam.

I considered asking about self-providing my blood pressure, cholesterol numbers, and other vitals as well, but she didn’t appear to possess a developed sense of humor. Plus, you know, there was that large hypodermic needle in her hand to consider.

After taking a quart of blood, the nurse perfunctorily dismissed me. To be fair, the company proved to be much more efficient. The results posted online the following day.

I passed most of the exam with flying colors. Granted, my blood pressure measured a bit north of ideal. However, I drove thirty minutes through Atlanta traffic before the nurse jammed a six inch needle in my arm. I EARNED those extra 10 systolic points!

And to quote Bill Murry in Caddyshack: “So, I’ve got that goin’ for me, which is nice!”

Morning Has Broken

dawn

Before changing his name to Yusef Islam later in the decade, Cat Stevens released Morning Has Broken in 1972. The song, based on a hymn published in 1931, reached #1 on the US Bill Board Adult Contemporary Chart.

The tune and lyrics combine to greet each dawn like the first day of creation.

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

Sweet the rains new fall, sunlit from Heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day

May God grant us the grace to awake each day with the Psalmist’s words on our lips:

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! 

Vespers

vespersSince moving to Atlanta, several senior communities have invited me to speak at their Vespers’ Service. The title comes from a Latin word meaning “evening.” Technically, the worship service occurs at the 6th canonical hour in the late afternoon. In common usage, however, it refers to any evening prayer service.

The Anglican tradition calls the service “evensong” which appeals to the poet in me. The United Methodist Book of Worship takes a more prosaic approach with the title: “An Order of Evening Praise and Prayer.” More descriptive, certainly, but not nearly as lyrical.

An ancient prayer from the 4th century, Syrian church declares:

We praise and thank you, O God,

for you are without beginning and without end.

Through Christ, you created the whole world;

through Christ, you preserve it.

You made the day for the works of light

and the night for the refreshment of our minds and bodies.

Keep us now in Christ; grant us a peaceful evening,

a night free from sin; and bring us at last to eternal life.

Through Christ and in the Holy Spirit,

we offer you all glory, honor, and worship,

now and forever.

Amen.