So . . . how do three pastors in two languages preach variations on the same sermon while on different campuses?
Very carefully is the expected answer; I pray that Very boldly was the real one.
Here was yesterday’s situation: Chris Thayer, the site pastor of our Zoar Road Campus, and I had decided that he should preach “live” at Moss one Sunday during Creatures Of Habit and I should preach the same message “live” at Zoar. All this while Sammy Gonzalez, our Pastor of Latino Ministries, would preach it “live” in Spanish in the Living Room on Moss Road.
So Chris settled on this Sunday’s message from Daniel 6 called Habitude. I gave both him and Sammy my sermon preparation (see below) about eight weeks ago, giving them plenty of time to internalize and personalize the contents while staying with the Scripture, title, and basic theme.
The English version had a bottom line that both Chris and I liked a lot: Ask God for help when you don’t need it so it will be a habit when you do. Playful, provocative, and faithful to the text.
It only brought up one problem for Sammy: that same sentence translated into Spanish doesn’t have the same punch. It’s actually a bit confusing. Fortunately, there was a supporting sentence that Sammy landed on AND that translates well: What you do in the calm determines how you do in the storm.
Below is what I preached on our Zoar Road Campus. Both Chris and Sammy took the core of what you’ll read and then both personalized and internalized the contents so that in English and in Spanish, on Moss Road and on Zoar Road, the community of Good Shepherd is becoming creatures of habit.
Let’s play a game, OK? It’s bible fill-in-the-blank. It’s not hard, this one, and I think that even those of you who are new in church and have never really opened a bible (you know, normal people) might get this one. Ready? DANIEL IN THE ________ _____________. Right! Lion’s Den! It sort of flows of the tongue and from our memories, does it not? Roaring, hungry lions both silenced and sated, Daniel emerging unscathed, one of the biblical library’s moments of true drama. You don’t even really have to know the story to know, kind of like Noah and the ______ or Samson and his _________ or that Daniel is all about his lions’ den.
But what if I were to tell you that for our purposes in the Creatures Of Habit series that what happens BEFORE Daniel goes into the lions’ den (can we call it DLD?) is actually more important? What if the precursor to the lions rendered toothless is what drives our series? What if the enemies Daniel faced EARLIER were every bit as deadly as the King of Beasts? What if I tell you that the real drama is NOT DLD but instead DPC?! Daniel in his Prayer Closet?! Wa-waaaah. Doesn’t have quite the same pop or snap or even crackle does it? They’re not gonna be making any movies or even illustrated children’s bible stories about DPC because it’s not quite as snazzy or sexy or spectacular as DLD.
But maybe in our focus on the spectacular we miss the power that is embedded in the mundane. Here’s the situation: Daniel, the man, is a Jewish refugee living in the city of Babylon. He is part of a wave of exiled Jews who have been forced to relocate from their home in Jerusalem – where they worshipped, more or less faithfully, ONE God and one God only – to pagan, multi-god Babylon. Where worship is like going to a Multi-Plex Theater: you choose the God you want! (AV possibility?) Babylon was in roughly the same locale as Baghdad, modern day Iraq. Except in Daniel 6, a new king named Darius – who is from Persia, Iran – has conquered the conquering Babylonians & is king over the whole deal. And Darius apparently says to Daniel, “Yo Daniel, you don’t have to live like a refugee!” Instead, he promotes him to satrap, like a governor, the kind they love in Birmingham. Look at 6:3:
3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.
Now: Daniel’s promotion made his colleagues – none of whom were Jewish – very jealous. So they come with a plan that is both diabolical and brilliant. Look at 6:5: 5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” See, to be a One God Worshipper in a place like Babylon made Daniel odd, strange, and vulnerable. Like wearing an “I’m With Her” (AV) shirt to the inauguration. Or a “Make America Great Again” hat to the march the day after the inauguration. Like a pastry chef at a Gluten Free Convention. Like wearing a Duke shirt on the campus of Chapel Hill. That was Daniel. So the colleagues go to Darius and say, “D-Man, Pass a law, will ya?” What was the law? Look at 6:7-9:
7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing.
Got that? Darius was a pagan, and so they get him to pass an iron-clad, death-sentence law that if anyone prays to a god other than Darius they become cat food for lions. And Darius – who, again, LIKES Daniel & is completely unaware of the trap being set (calling into question why you’d want to pray to him if he could be so easily duped!) – agrees.
So: enemies, opponents, faux colleagues, fueled by jealousy, lay a perfect trap for Daniel. And I don’t know . . . .some of you know what that is like. In the office, on the sports team, in the fraternity, in the preacher network (!), people fueled by jealousy or ambition skillfully edge you out. It’s how some of you lost that starting position, how others of you lost that promotion, and how some of you even lost that job. I know this for you. It’s like you’ve got lions, too, metaphorical but every bit as deadly.
And look what Daniel does after the law passes:
10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God,
The “open windows” there is the subject of a lot of speculation. Defiant? Maybe. Hiding? Definitely not. Doing what he’d always done as an exile in that land? Continuing? Yes. Because look next at 6:10b: just as he had done before and underline just as he had done before. Tuck that away. We’ll come back to it very soon. Because look at 6:11a: Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying . Now wait wait wait wait. Before we discuss anything else . . . what would your opponents find if they were to spy on you? What would they discover you doing when you were doing what you always do? Some of you have sinking feeling in your stomach at that thought right now – vegging, gossiping, Rx pill popping, internet surfing, internet surfing . . . all in all, not pretty. And, not Daniel.
Because look what these gumshoes find: “Daniel praying and asking God for help.” Tremendous! What he always does, just as he had done before & it’s this continual, consistent asking God for help. That’s Daniel when no one is looking but someone is spying! Oh, it’s so clear now! When Daniel is faced with a crisis – a refugee, a LAW, an EDICT he as a Jew can’t possibly obey – Daniel doesn’t have to change his routine! He survives, he overcomes the danger BASED ON PATTERNS HE HAD ESTABLISHED WHEN THERE WAS NO DANGER. When he needed help, he merely did what he did when he didn’t! In the face of enormous threat, surrounded by enemies, his new normal was just more of his old normal. The last of 6:10 & the first of 6:11 are as exciting to me as any lions den. So here’s the takeaway: Ask God for help when you DON’T need it so it will be a habit when you DO. Yes! No new patterns necessary when you can continue the old one. What you do in the calm determines how you will do in the storm.
It is so much like a woman named June Morris wrote: READ Upper Room. Fourteen times! Ask God for help when you DON’T need it so it will be a habit when you DO.
Or it’s like that Xn shrine in the French mountains where pilgrims come to pray for healing. And shortly after WW2, a veteran with only one leg went there. Fellow pray-ers saw him and muttered to his friend – a little too loudly as it turned out – “look at that silly man! Does he think God is going to give him back his leg?” The vet overheard and answered: “No I do not expect a new leg. I’m here to pray to ask God to help me live without it.” Ask God for help when you DON’T need it so it will be a habit when you DO.
Or maybe, more than anything, it’s like the lady who said to her pastor, “I only take big things to God. I don’t take the little things to God.” To which her pastor wisely responded, “Ma’am, anything you take to God is little.” And so it is! Compared to him! Ask God for help when you DON’T need it so it will be a habit when you DO.
I just really, really, really believe in perseverance, consistency, & continuity. You know what? Because I am the youngest of 8 children. Huh? Well every so often I think “what if they had stopped at seven?!?! A world WITHOUT ME!” It was kinda funny – I was actually working on this message I’m delivering TODAY on the day after I’d gotten some really good news; an answer to a really long prayer. So I put this out there on the internet: I HARASSED GOD ABOUT SOMETHING UNTIL HE SAID ‘YES’ SO TODAY IS SHAPING UP TO BE A VERY GOOD DAY INDEED. People flew to “Like” it! (Some of them “Loved” it but Twitter doesn’t give you a Love option!) So: whether it’s childbearing or prayer, the patterns and habits you establish in the calm determine how you deal with the chaos. Ask God for help when you DON’T need it so it will be a habit when you DO.
See, when, like Daniel, you ask for help consistently & continually even when based on appearances you don’t even need to do so … when that crisis comes your prayer will be natural. It will be like breathing. Listen: God want you asking for stuff you THINK you got covered . . . because you really don’t. It’s ALL a gift and you’re radically dependent on him whether you know it or not. It’s just so much better to know it and to celebrate it! All a gift – breath, life, mobility, salvation. And so you ask help on stuff that if people knew they might accuse you of being weak or small but you know there is no more revolutionary act on planet earth that admitting you are powerless without God. It’s not an act of weakness; it’s a demonstration of incredible strength. REFRAIN
When Riley, now 24, was little – and I mean little like toddler through elementary school – I’d often go in his room while he was sleeping, lay my hand on his head and pray that he’d grow up to love the bible. What an odd prayer! I need you to help me help him to grow up and love the bible. I remember feeling very clearly led to pray this odd prayer – you know, odder than let him be a Christian, keep him safe, find him a good wife, give him a college scholarship . . . whatever. So precise & I knew it at the time, a bit strange. But led that way. A short prayer probably once or twice a week, prayed in a season of our lives with no crises and no melodrama.
What does he do with his 24 year old life now? Teaches bible studies and has faith conversations with students on the campus of the University of Tennessee as part of CCC. Wow. Praying those prayers over a little guy I didn’t really NEED help (or so I thought) but I sure got it. Ask God for help when you DON’T need it so it will be a habit when you DO.
I guess I’d say that all this falls under the category of what we call here a living relationship. Because you know what a lot of us have? A crisis relationship. Or a sporadic relationship. By that I mean we wait until the crisis hits and THAT’S when we get all religious. And sometimes that helps, but usually it doesn’t because we fail to realize that a living relationship is the best crisis PREVENTION medicine of them all. You know this: you can spend a thimble full of energy PREVENTING crises or a bucketful of it MANAGING them. A lot of you are going through this right now. I just want that went the current crisis passes – and it will – for your level of religious desperation to continue! So that when the next one comes – and it will, probably – you won’t have to develop any new panic-filled habits. Like Daniel, you’ll do as you’d done before; you’ll be spied on by your enemies when all you’re doing is asking God for help in the for the little things. REFRAIN.
So: what apparently insignificant thing will you ask help for this week? How will you embed that in your daily time of being away and alone. Don’t be too proud! Ain’t too proud to beg! Harass him. Shake a fist at him! Wrestle him like Jacob! Even over the small stuff. I’ve told you this before but there is rarely a conversation I have in my office or at the hospital where I DON’T ask God to let the other person see Jesus on my face. Because that’s a lot better than me!
And you’ll never know who benefits from your consistency, from you continuing. Look at the aftermath of the DLD in 6:26-27 where Darius issues ANOTHER edict.
26 “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.
“For he is the living God
and he endures forever;
his kingdom will not be destroyed,
his dominion will never end.
27 He rescues and he saves;
he performs signs and wonders
in the heavens and on the earth.
He has rescued Daniel
from the power of the lions.”
Huh. The would-be god demanding allegiance to the One True God. That’s worth a high, holy hallelujah. Ask God for help when you DON’T need it so it will be a habit when you DO.