Living in the Tension

Did you ever make a tin can telephone as a child? Take 2 cans (or Dixie cups if you were like me), put a small hole in the bottom of each, connect the two with a string, and then you and your buddy can pass secret messages to one another from totally different rooms. It was a fun little toy, and probably mind blowing when it was first invented (the first evidence of a wire-tension telephone was by scientist Robert Hooke as early as 1667!). The thing about tin can phones, though, is that they would not work well unless you kept a certain amount of tension on the string, as a loose string cannot effectively transmit the sound vibrations. Tension is necessary for its proper function.

I think there is a certain lesson here that maybe applies as well to all of life, especially theology. First, think of all the dichotomies in a person’s life. There’s work/life balance. There’s the interplay between focusing on being a good parent and a good spouse. There’s doing good for others and making sure you still do good for yourself. If we let these swing all the way to one side or the other, bad things generally happen. The man who works 90 hours a week does as much disservice to his family as the lazy man does to his boss. The parents who pour all of themselves into their children and leave no romance are as bad off as the parents who care only for each other at their children’s expense. The totally giving, 100% of the time selfless person will eventually burn out and crash, but the egomaniac is no better off. Often the middle road is best. In other words, life must be lived in the tension.

The same is true for much of theology. If you walk through the campuses of seminaries across America, the most commonly debated idea these days would almost certainly be the doctrines of God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will in salvation. Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Has God in his sovereign greatness foreordained everything that is to happen, such that he knows everyone who will be saved and everyone who will not? Do we even have a choice in the matter then? Or do I as a free agent have the ability to decide my own fate? Can I consciously turn towards or reject God? There are those who would answer these with a resounding yes, no, no, no! And there are those who would say no, yes, yes, yes! I can guarantee that this debate has led to bad blood between classmates, if not full blown destruction of friendships.

The thing is, biblical evidence exists to support both sides. Is God Sovereign? Yes. Does God know what will happen in our lives? As often as the Bible uses the terms predestined, foreknew, and ordained, absolutely. Do humans have free choice? Yes, otherwise Jesus would not call us to preach the Gospel and call people to repentance. Of course there are many positions that attempt to reconcile the biblical account of how it all works. And of course as long as you have solid biblical foundation for your belief, you can land in whichever camp you think is best. My point here is not to debate the five points of Calvinism (there’s plenty of that out there on the internet already). My point is that sometimes things aren’t cut and dry, but instead they’re messy. There’s a tension going on, and we’re called to live in it.

By no means is this the only tension, either. If God is sovereign then what’s the point in us praying and asking for things? How is the Trinity even possible? How can someone be three persons in one at the same time? Even better, how can God the Son come down as flesh incarnate and live a human life as a fully human man, yet still be fully God at the same time?  How can God be perfectly holy and just such that all sin against his nature deserves full wrath and destruction, yet still merciful and loving to forgive? How can God use something as horrible and accursed as crucifixion to accomplish the feat of glorious salvation for all of humanity? And those don’t even touch the contradictions of practical Christian faith and social norms: whoever would save his life would lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it (Matt 16:25); in the Kingdom of Heaven, whoever is first will be last and the last will be first (Matt 20:16); the poor in spirit will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven; those who mourn will be comforted; the meek will inherit the earth (Matt 5); we’re supposed to have humble faith like a little child (Matt 18:3); and on and on it goes.

We are all too arrogant as human creatures, thinking we have a birthright to all that can be known. We refuse to admit that sometimes things just remain a mystery to us. Instead, let us rejoice that the infinite and illimitable God has shown us the grace to reveal even just a portion of his goodness. Now of course I’m not saying any time we come up against some tough thought we should throw up our hands and say, “It’s a mystery!” But let us not be quick to presume we definitively have all the answers.

We live in the tension. We’re pulled between conflicting realities, but the tension between them does not cease to make them real. Instead of scoffing at the idea, seeking some sort of settled relaxation, let us embrace the tension. It’s okay. It won’t hurt. Instead of arguing or fretting over what we may not fully understand, let us instead turn to what we do know. We may not fully grasp the intricacies of God’s sovereignty and man’s will, but we know that Christ called us to go and make disciples of all nations. We may not understand how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit mesh with one another, but we do know all of their roles in our spiritual lives. We may not understand how the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, but we do know that Christ calls us to deep, vibrant faith in Him. We may not fully understand how a man dying in such an excruciating way can be construed as the greatest victory in the history of creation, but we do know that’s the way God chose to bring about our salvation.

This world is messy. Life is messy. Theology is messy. And that’s okay. It’s through the mess, through the tension, through the stretching and twisting that we grow the most. Like the tin cup telephone, life without some tension is simply empty. So embrace it.

Now all has been heard;

Here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments,

For this is the duty of all mankind

Eccl. 12:13

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The Bonds of Christian Unity

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A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of sharing a sermon with a group of people that I have known, and who have known me, for a very long time. I was asked to preach for the Acadian Baptist Association revival service in Eunice, LA, which is my hometown. I spent my first 18 years of life in that little Cajun town, and I have many fond memories of my days there. Being a Baptist in Eunice meant that I “stood out” at times, mostly because of the prominence of Catholicism in the area. There was not a shred of animosity or strife among me and my Catholic friends; we all got along just fine. Yet, I was keenly aware that my Baptist convictions placed me in the minority among the residents of my hometown. Although I was in the minority, I never felt like I was alone, as I had many Baptist friends who helped me along the way. Greater still, there were countless other loving and precious adults who were praying for me and my spiritual growth.

So, when I returned to Eunice last week to preach from God’s Word, I was greeted by so many of those dear Christian people who had such a tremendous impact on my life and my faith. I hugged former school teachers, ministers, Sunday School teachers, family and friends that I have literally not laid eyes on in 20+ years; but it was like I had never left. And as I sat there during the “singin” time, I thought about how much those very people had to do with the fact that I was about to enter that pulpit and preach God’s Word. I don’t think anyone would have imagined that little Oren would grow up to be a preacher (although as much as I talked as a child, some might not be surprised). But looking back it was God’s plan all along to get me to where I am today, and the grace in it all is that He used each of those faithful believers to shape me, mold me, and encourage me to this point in my life. Let me clear about something: This is NOT about me becoming a pastor, rather it is about how God uses Christian unity to make for himself a holy people who love, support, teach, and encourage one another for the glory of His name. This is part of the ministry of the church that we don’t often talk about or share with one another, but it is absolutely vital that we all take time to remember God’s grace in how he uses others to sanctify us and lead us into obedience.

I have thought often about my own blessed congregation in this context as well, particularly as it relates to the 140 years of ministry and worship at FBC Baton Rouge. The joy of belonging to the body of Christ, regardless of where you might live, was on display among the people (and former people) of FBCBR. When we all got together in September 2014 for our 140th Anniversary Celebration, one of the uplifting “take-aways” for me was just how precious this church is to so many people “NOW” because it was precious to them “THEN”. As life happens and families are moved around, the church can be an anchor and a place of joy for every one of us. As jobs come and go and as children grow up and leave, very few of us forget just how special our church is to us. We know those individuals who love and support us and to this day continue to pray for us. This is the beauty of the church and the encouragement of the bonds of Christian unity.

What led me to this thought was the writing of Paul to the Ephesian church as he sought to bring them back to a place of spiritual agreement, knowing that the church is only effective when she is united in peace. Paul writes these words:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. – Ephesians 4:1-3

 

Notice the emphasis Paul makes on the “how” and the “why” of Christian unity. We are to walk (live) with humility, gentleness, patience, and in love for one another while being eager to maintain unity in the bonds of peace through the Holy Spirit. This is how we are to live. Why should we? Because we have been “called” by Christ to walk in this particular manner for the sake of peace. This “peace” goes with us where we go because we take Christ into every place, every building, every room and relationship. So the peace that led all of those loving men and women to encourage me and build me up over the years in Eunice is the same peace which they welcomed me in when I returned. It is an abiding peace that never leaves and only grows as Christ works in his people. And when we see those old friends, mentors, and teachers our hearts are once again warmed and edified by their presence and their kindness. This is the bonds of Christian unity that cannot be broken.

 

Take some time today to thank God Almighty for the gift of Christian people in your life. Without them, you would not be where you are today, and without the church we suffer greatly if we are deprived of their blessed help going forward. It’s no secret that Christians are looked upon today with disdain. The reasons for that are too many to list here, but it should be no surprise to us that we will need each other in the days to come. So love your fellow Christians, keep in touch with those who have moved away, and most of all pray for them as you ask God to glorify his name through them. Jesus Christ is faithful to his people, so let us be faithful to Him and to his church.

 

Collegiate Pursuit

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We all know college can be a place of new people and opportunities, some more beneficial than others. Finally free from parents, students are bombarded with people to meet, activities to attend, causes to give time and money to, and different academic and extracurricular groups to join daily. As most freshmen are, I was overwhelmed when first coming to LSU. Fortunately, my older sisters had already paved the way to the doors of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry where I quickly met other freshmen and made friends. Getting involved in a freshmen Bible study and visiting churches as soon as I got there helped me feel like moving 16 hours away from my family and friends was NOT a huge mistake, a thought that crossed my mind the night before I left home.

But even at the BCM, everything is vying for your time. Fortunately, I followed the call to visit local churches, ended up at First Baptist, and I couldn’t be happier. FBC has become a second home to me with people just as important to me as family.

I’m so thankful that I was pursued by the church and welcomed with such love! Instead of wasting my college years, I was shown through the Church what it meant to really live a life of faith. I was given the opportunity to make my faith, MY faith and not my parents’. I was able to meet other college students who also valued this time of life to grow in their faith. And I was reminded of why we are even here on Earth in the first place.

Ultimately, I want to say thank you to FBC. Thank you for pursuing college students like myself. Thank you for giving them the option to avoid the many pitfalls that are available to them around campus. Thank you for believing in the next generation of the Church. Please never lose your heart for this group.

Faith UnFrozen Family Night

It was 2013 when Disney’s Frozen hit the big screen. Fast forward to 2015 and kids are still talking about it. As someone who works with kids, I hear the movie’s music all the time. I mean all the time. I try to turn a cold shoulder to it. I’m telling you, that movie is walking on thin ice with me. I might sound cold, but there’s snow way I can hold it in. I’ve got to let it go.

All joking aside, something about the movie has stuck with kids, and that’s why I loved the idea of Faith UnFrozen. I was so excited to bring it to our church after reading about it in Children’s Ministry Magazine. The idea is to have crafts and games that play off the frosty theme, but to have a faith connection with each activity. Adding to the fun, we had families come together during the night to play and discover more about faith together. Here are some pictures from the night:

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If you missed the action, here is a simple activity modified from a game we played that you can do at home:

Grab a family member and a piece of ice. Try to hold it as long as possible. When you hand gets uncomfortably cold, give the ice cube to your partner so you can warm up a bit. Keep switching until it’s all melted.

Read Philippians 1:28-30: “Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.  We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.” (NLT)

Questions to answer as a family:

  • How was the ice like or unlike the struggles we face in real life?
  • How was having a partner like or unlike having God in our lives?
  • What’s one way you know God is always with you even when times are hard?

Disciple Now

Disciple Now. If you’ve been in a Baptist church for any length of time in the past twenty years or so, you’ve almost certainly heard the name. But what exactly is Disciple Now? Why is it such a big deal? Why is that crazy youth pastor asking for your help with it or for your prayers in support of it? I wanted to take some time here and hopefully shed some light on the subject.

Disciple Now, or just DNow for short, is simply a good old fashioned retreat weekend for students. It has 4 main components that all come together to make for a great time: small group Bible studies, large group worship times, some type of service activity, and a whole bunch of just hanging out and having fun. Below we’ll look at how each of these four things is so important.

Bible Study

Small group Bible study is great for a number of reasons. First, what is more edifying than diving headfirst into God’s word and seeing how exactly it can and should impact our lives? DNow Bible studies and free times are broken up into groups based on age and gender, with each group spending the weekend nights at a separate host home. Each group is led by two college students from our ministry, who both teach the Bible studies and corral students around for the weekend. By providing strong spiritual role modeling, these group leaders help our students see what exactly it means to be a Christian in today’s world.

Corporate Worship

Worshipping together as the Body of Christ is central to all that the Church is. Our times in worship together provide the opportunity to reflect back what we have learned about God in praise to Him. Additionally, worship times provide a chance for our speaker to share some messages from God’s word and help synthesize all the lessons from the weekend.

Service Project

Doing acts of service provides the avenue to put our faith into practice. These have been all over the place from year to year, but the important thing is to remind students that while it’s great to have fun, their spiritual life is not just about themselves. We as the Body of Christ are called to be lights shining like stars in the world as we reflect the love of Christ.

Fun Time

Finally, what good DNow weekend would be called good without a ton of fun activities. We usually try to do something special as a fun activity, whether that be going on a scavenger hunt around town, going ice skating, or something as simple as a game of capture the flag. Between all the officially scheduled events are plenty of times where fellowship happens naturally—there’s no better way to become good friends with someone than by spending a few nights together in someone’s house. By having that “sleepover” feel of fun, we help build camaraderie and grow as a group.

Disciple Now is meant to be a fun weekend that conveys to students the simple truths of God’s love for us in Christ. It’s all packaged up with a number of fun activities, but ultimately it serves a greater purpose: DNow weekends (for me personally, and for others I’m sure) stand as monuments along the paths of our personal faith journeys. As an annual event, each year’s DNow provides another chance to briefly pause the craziness of life and stop to look at what’s truly important—our relationship with God. It can easily be a defining moment. And that’s why it’s such a big deal.

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God Sightings

Lance Brown is a color-blind Christian speed painter and speaker. Despite being color-blind, Lance uses his painting skills to share the gospel with others. I found a video of his and I wanted to share it with you. At the end he steps behind his painting. How would you describe the image?

In this crazy, sin-filled world, it can be easy to lose focus on God. You might not have seen Jesus before it was reveal d to be upside down, but thankfully God reveals Himself to those who seek Him. Proverbs 8:17 says, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.”

How often does your family seek God’s presence? Unfortunately, it can be easy to become distracted and lose focus on God. Throughout the Scriptures, we are told to seek God. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” God sightings are an easy way to help your family start seeking God every day.

Every Wednesday night during our Bible and music time, we take a moment to write down a God sighting. Each child is given a pencil and notecard and starts to write (or draw) a way they saw God at work in their lives, ways they see God’s love. It can be someone feeling better, a beautiful day, or a chance to share Jesus with someone new.

We’ve only been doing this for a few months, but it’s amazing to look back and see what the kids have shared. We’ve seen huge blessings and small wonders that perhaps only a child could really notice. But no matter the size, the goal is to focus on God throughout the week and to give Him thanks.

Start looking for God sightings with your family each day. Share them in the car, while eating dinner, or before you go to bed. Find a time and make it a tradition.

Here’s a tip for you parents: God sightings are easy on the good days, but your kids may have a harder time seeing God on the bad days. When kids can’t see God in troubled times, remind them of Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” We can pray for God’s will in all situations.

Further Reading:

1 Chronicles 16:11 – Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!

Lamentations 3:25 – The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.

Deuteronomy 4:29 – But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Let it Be Said of Us

One of the songs we have been singing in worship is entitled “Let it Be Said of Us”. Reflect on these words below and use these lyrics as a prayer for your life and our church.


Let it be said of us that the Lord was our passion,hymnal
That with gladness we bore every cross we were given;
That we fought the good fight, that we finished our course
Knowing within us the power of the risen Lord.

Let the cross be our glory and the Lord be our song;
By mercy made holy, by the Spirit made strong.
Let the cross be our glory and the Lord be our song.
‘Till the likeness of Jesus be through us made known.
Let the cross be our glory and the Lord be our song.


“Let it be said of us that the Lord was our passion.”

Do you desire to know the Lord? reflect upon Psalm 63:1- “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.’

“That with gladness we bore every cross we were given;”

Have you dealt with conflict and affliction like the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21- “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” ?

“That we fought the good fight, that we finished our course.”

Read 1 Timothy 6:12. ” Fight the good fight to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Remember your call to preach the gospel and pray that you are faithful to that end.

“Knowing within us the power of the risen Lord.”

Read Philippians 3:7-10 “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,”

Remember that all things fail in comparison to knowing Christ.

( All words of “Let it be Said of Us” is from the 2008 Baptist hymnal, Words printed with permission CCLI #92402.)

3 Ways to Help Kids Grow in Faith

GrowingIn their book Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey, Catherine Stonehouse and Scottie May share their findings over the many interviews they have conducted with children about God.

“We see that as children mature, more and more of them move away from a concrete view of God. They acknowledge that God is not just the greatest of all human creatures…some of them wrestle with understanding God, realizing that God is beyond their comprehension,” said the authors.

The question for today…how can we help kids go from wrestling to wondering. How can we help kids growing in faith focus their hearts on God? Here are some things you can do as a family to guide kids during this question-filled time:

  1. Relational wondering. I love to give kids a chance to wonder together. In December, we asked the kids what they thought was interesting about how Jesus was born in a manger rather than a palace. It was amazing to hear what the kids came up with just by wondering and talking together. We had some great discussion time that lead from that question. Ask your kids wondering questions at home as well. The best questions don’t always have a yes or no answer.
  2. Look for God. Many kids are concrete learners and an omnipotent and omniscient Creator can be a lot to wrap your brain around. Help kids by spending time together as a family discussion how God was active in your lives today. We all heard the wind example…you don’t see the wind but you see what the wind can do. You don’t see God but you see what He does. Take that a step further and make it personal. Share with your kids a time you saw God’s love today and ask them to do the same. Make looking for these God moments a part of your daily routine. (I’ll share more about looking for God in my next post!)
  3. Keep it age-appropriate. Just because they are young, don’t think kids can’t dig into the Bible, worship God, and pray to Him (1 Timothy 4:12). What a blessing it is when families read the Bible, worship, and pray together. The key to helping kids look forward to these times is by keeping things age-appropriate. That doesn’t mean to dilute God’s Word or pray any less. It means making the most out of these times by teaching kids in ways they learn best. For example, as you read the Bible, ask kids to illustrate the point or have them act out what they just heard. During prayer, let kids talk to God. If this is a new time for your family, guide them with feel-in-the-blank prayers (God we thank you for…letting kids fill in the prayer with what they are thankful for).

We believe that God has placed children under the authority of their parents, and it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children how to live a life that is pleasing to God. But the Church is here to partner with parents, equipping them to help their children grow in faith. Remember, FBC is always here for you!

My Need of Jesus

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Lord Jesus,

I am blind, be my light

I am ignorant, be my wisdom

I am self-willed, be my thoughts

Open my ears to hear in this moment the Spirit’s voice,

And may I run gladly to his beckoning hand.

Melt my conscience that no hardness of heart remains in me,

And make me ever aware of evil’s slightest temptation

When Satan approaches, may I find solace in your wounds,

And there help me not to tremble at worldly things

Lord, be my good shepherd and lead me into

The green pastures of your Word

And cause me to lie down beside the waters of its comfort

Fill me with peace, that I will not be tossed by the winds of this world

So I will find peace in the midst of life’s storms

Your cross O Jesus, was raised to be my refuge

Your blood O Christ, flowed down to wash me clean

Your death O Savior occurred to give me security

Your name O LORD is my inheritance and salvation

In you and by you all of heaven is planted into my heart

Yet I am too finite to comprehend your boundless love

I was a stranger, an outcast, a slave, a rebel

But your cross has brought me near

You have softened my heart

You have made me your Father’s child

You have admitted me into your family,

You have made me a fellow-heir with you.

O that I may love you as you love me,

That I will walk worthy of you, my Lord

That I will reflect your image

May I always see your beauty with the clarity of faith,

And may I feel the power of your Spirit at work in my heart,

For unless He moves mightily in me

There can be no fire kindled within.

Translation from Valley of Vision, Need of Jesus; p.186

 

Spiritual Resolutions

Resolutions
For my article the February newsletter, I wrote about some “spiritual resolutions” that we discussed with the youth at the city-wide youth rally back in January. I only had space for 2 of them, but I wanted to take the time here to briefly talk about one more. First, in case you missed it, I’m going to copy the text of the newsletter article, and then we can build off it.

From the FBC First Focus Newsletter (Vol. 5, Issue 2):

So, at this point, we’ve all had an entire month to work on our New Year’s resolutions. How’s that going? I imagine that most of us have already fallen off the bandwagons of eating less, exercising more, waking up earlier, reading the Bible more often, or whatever other habits we may have attempted to add into our lives. New Year’s resolutions are such a funny phenomenon, but the truth is there’s nothing magical about the start of a new year that makes those resolutions special. In fact, resolutions are sort of a common aspect of our lives.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, we resolve to do things all the time: love our spouses by doing more around the house, care for our children by providing them with more special moments, be safe and attentive drivers, or handle that pile of junk that’s been piling up in the corner. If done correctly, our conscious resolutions should morph into unconscious habits over time, as our forced actions become ingrained routine. Interestingly enough, this idea of resolutions is nothing new to us as people.

This past month, our youth group participated in the semi-annual Bayou City-Wide Youth Rally at Greenwell Springs Baptist. The evening of worship was led by the LSU BCM’s worship band and Blake Newsom, preaching professor and Dean of Chapel at New Orleans Seminary. Blake talked about this very topic of resolutions, and illustrated a handful of spiritual resolutions from the life of Daniel that I’d like to share with you.

  1. Trust God. Along with thousands of his fellow Israelites, Daniel was taken into captivity and put in service to the Babylonian king whose army had ravaged his home and slaughtered his family, friends, and countrymen. As demonstrated throughout the first (non-apocalyptic) half of the book of Daniel, he never lost faith in God, despite all the hardships and setbacks.

We all face troubles in life that test our faith. But lack of trust in God doesn’t always happen in the tough times. Maybe you’ve simply grown complacent and no longer rely on God through the good times. Or maybe you really are struggling through suffering, hardship, or temptations. Maybe God is hard to see through the muck and grime of life. 1 Peter 5:6-7,10 says “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you…  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” God calls out to us, saying “Trust in me! Let me be your hope! Let me be your strength! I’m here for you!”

  1. Don’t Defile Yourself. Everyone knows the story of Daniel refusing the king’s rich food and wine, but Daniel’s resolve to purity was much more than just over food and drink. All four of the Jews listed in Daniel 1:6 have in their very names a reminder of devotion to God. The Hebrews had 2 names for God: Yahweh and Elohim, and these Hebrew roots of Yah and El are found in the names of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaraiah. Thus, even their names served as a cultural tie to their God and their faith. By renaming the four to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Babylonian names), Nebuchadnezzar was attempting to strip them of their cultural identity and especially their relationship to God.

So what do sixth century BC Hebrew names have anything to do with defiling ourselves in modern America? Here 1 Peter (1:15-16) once again provides some great insight: “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” God wants us to be holy, to be pure, to be set apart from the sinfulness of this world and devoted to Him. To that end, we should avoid filling our minds with evil things. But on a less obvious note, we should make sure our identity is found solely in Christ.

Our world constantly advertises to us with ideas of who we should be, how we should act, and what we should look like. Society tells us that we need the latest and greatest toys to be complete, that we need to lose so much weight before we can be beautiful and therefore valuable, and basically that everything about us is imperfect and needs to be fixed. These cultural identity pressures can be absolutely destructive if we let them rule our lives.

If we do not strive to stay pure—physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually—we will never attain the fullness of life that God has for us in Him. We love to think of Christ coming to save us to eternal life, but the truth is that eternal life refers not just to age but to quality as well. He wants what’s best for us, and He wants it now. So let us turn to the fullness of this holy life. Let us find our satisfaction in Christ alone—in His love, His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, His honor, His glory, His character, and His example of how to live.

Do you need to resolve to either of these today? Do you need to simply turn to God and trust in His might to care for you, no matter the situation? Do you need to give up that dishonoring habit and instead fill yourself with pure things? I pray that like Daniel, God would give you the strength to turn to Him in those ways.

 

While trusting God and not defiling ourselves certainly qualify as important spiritual resolutions, they are not the only things we can commit to in our relationship to Him. The third lesson from the life of Daniel, while it sounds very vague and overarching, is something I think we can all work on.

  1. Devote Yourself to God. Daniel in the Lion’s Den. It’s a story we all know for its ending and the fact that it contains supernatural intervention over the appetites of apex predators. I suspect that not everyone quite remembers the details in all of their glory, though. In Daniel 6, king Darius is about to appoint Daniel—who is a foreigner, remember—to what is basically second in command of the whole Persian Empire. Needless to say, many of the other governmental leaders were quite jealous, and wanted to find a way to take him down. Daniel 6:4-5 says, “Then [they] sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, ‘We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.’” They basically said, “He’s such an upstanding citizen that the only flaw he has is that he’s too devoted to God.” Has anyone ever said that about you?

These men end up convincing Darius to make a law that everyone in the empire must pray to him as a god, and of course Daniel refuses to do so. Even in the face of legal punishment, Daniel is so devoted that he goes home and prays toward Jerusalem. When Darius learns of the situation, he cares about Daniel so much that he spends all night poring over legal records trying to figure out a loophole to get Daniel out of the punishment. What a testimony to Daniel’s integrity and devotion.

Would you consider yourself wholly devoted to God? Do you spend time daily in prayer? Do you meditate on God’s word? Does your devotion to God spill over into every aspect of your life? This is the example Daniel provides for us. He was gifted by God with the aptitude for leadership, yes, but he absolutely did not squander that gift. He devoted himself to fully utilizing his talents, leveraging them in every way for the glory of God and the good of his world. We should strive for the same in our lives.

At this point in the year, I don’t know if you’ve kept up with your New Year’s resolutions (if you even made them in the first place). I don’t know if you’re still eating healthy, exercising more, saving more money, or whatever else you may have resolved to do. What I do know, however, is that if we as a church came together and committed ourselves to the Lord, decided to fully put our trust in Him, fill our hearts with holy and not profane things, and devote ourselves totally to His Word and His service, then there is no limit to what we could do. Just imagine a city full of Daniels—selfless, hardworking Christians—together seeking the glory of God and the welfare of Baton Rouge, LA. What a difference we could make.

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