Monday, October 09, 2006

So I'm back reading in the old Testament book of Daniel, and thinking again about his life story.

Daniel goes through four segments (over and over - in each chapter). It's like Daniel, when telling his story, wants to underline this sequence:
he begins in a place of comfort within his culture. Then he gets caught in a dilemma. He must make a decision and he chooses to honor God in his response to the dilemma he faces, despite the danger it puts him in. As a result, he becomes a counselor of greater and greater influence - in other words, God blesses his God-honoring choice by widening the circle of people who listen to him, and broadening the number of people who follow his leadership.

It's like Daniel - in looking back over his life as he wrote this book, saw a repeated pattern.

And that got me thinking about my life (again). I think the pattern that repeats in Daniel's life is the same pattern that keeps repeeating in my life. From comfort to being caught in a dilemma, having to choose whether or not to honor God with my response, and then growing to be a person of greater influence (like a counselor).

The pattern repeats not because I'm stuck like Bill Murray's character in "Groundhog Day" movie. No, I believe that this pattern repeats because it's the pattern of how God forms integrity into my character. God sets up the situations so that, if I choose to honor him when confronted with a dilemma, I grow more integrity in my character.

So, what was the dilemma that caught Daniel? Well, the first one (recorded in Daniel, chapter 1)was a dilemma of what food he would eat. I know that doesn't sound very dramatic. But if you dig a little deeper into the story, you see that Daniel's convictions were at stake.

Remember, he, along with other young men his age (14-16) had been deported from their homeland in southern Israel to the far-away city of Babylon. He was put into a special school, sort of a training academy in Babylonian culture, literature, history, and science. It was like a Liberal Arts University education in a foreign land.

That doesn't sound so bad, in fact the bonus of all this was that if he showed scholastic skill he could land a pretty responsible job in the government of King Nebuchadnezzar. He was much more than a Congressional Page (yikes, I just read about the Foley scandal in the paper today). But, like the congressional pages, he was in a culture of "If you want to get along, you got to go along."

And that culture forced a dilemma onto Daniel. The school meal plan demanded that he eat pork-related food (which was against his Jewish faith), and drink fine wine at each meal. It was what the King ate, and he expected his proteges to eat like him.

But Daniel honored God in responding to this dilemma. He quietly asked the proctor of the school, "Can you allow me to eat plainer, more basic food. No rich pork meals, and no wine?" When the proctor said, "Hey, I don't want to get in trouble with the King. If you eat that plain stuff, you'll look pale and thin compared to the others, and it will be my head that rolls!"

But Daniel wisely countered, "Just give me a 10 day trial of the diet that I know works best for me. Then after 10 days, see if I'm thin or strong, see if I'm pale or powerful." The proctor agreed, and after 10 days Daniel looked healthier, stronger, more clear-eyed than the rest of the student body.(well, that's easy to understand, ever see young men when they have a hosted bar available to them? Moderation is not their normal response)

But the great part is that Daniel didn't just "look marvelous" (in Billy Crystal's immortal words), he "was marvelous" in his intellect, his speech and his grasp of all the subject matter of the school.

Daniel honored God (by keeping his convictions even when it wasn't easy), and God blessed him with a deeper grasp of the subject matter and a wiser way of relating to other people. At the end of the term, the King interviewed all the young men from his college and Daniel was head and shoulders above the rest. So the King gave him a position in his personal advisors group (sort of like an extended Presidential cabinet). Wow, talk about becoming a counselor of greater influence.

So it matters what I do when I'm confronted with a dilemma that demands I sacrifice my convictions just to "go along". I can choose to honor God despite the risk, or I can just lower my head and shuffle along with the rest. As I look back on my life, when I acted like Daniel - God did bless my life. When I buckled, what looked like the easier "go along" path turned out to be worse for me.

Take amoment and look back over your life. Do you see Daniel's pattern in your life? Are you facing a dilemma that is forcing you to choose between a God-honoring conviction, or a 'group-think caving in' response?

That kind of a choice is never easy. Becoming a person of greater integrity is not easy. But it is good.

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