Our God is a living God. Daniel knew this with his whole heart. Even amid the royal court and all its politics he knew to stay true to God. He knew to trust God’s presence despite those around him vying for power.
Daniel’s faith in his living God allowed him to be the person God was calling him to be while in exile. The story of Daniel and the Lion’s den brings God’s message of hope and life to all people who are struggling with persecution and oppression, especially, when they found themselves in a foreign place.
God is a living God, is the message I saw in action this summer during our mission trip with the youth.
This summer seven of our youth, Brent Mullis, Ned Parnell and I went to Baltimore, MD this past June for the annual Youth mission trip. We served at a place called the Center which is an organization that connects youth and adults to mission partners in the city of Baltimore.
The Center offers a different kind of mission experience.
Through their model of pairing visiting church groups with local congregations, groups join an ongoing ministry in the Baltimore area. Visiting groups are immersed in hands-on experiences with their partners. Our group also spent time with The Center staff, reflecting on shared experiences through the lenses of Christian faith and social change.
Our Mission partner in Baltimore was Gallery Church Patterson Park.
This church is where we met Pastor Bill Medina and his wife Aida.
Bill and Aida are serving God at the crossroads of poverty and affluence in a multicultural neighborhood. This area of Baltimore is the area of the city where immigrants have settled over the years. In Patterson Park and the surrounding area people of all nationalities are striving to live and work in a new country. These neighbors are hopeful they too can make a fresh start in a new city. Bill is constantly and consistently bringing the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ to their community. He often says, “we are united through Jesus Christ.
Bill and his congregation want their neighbors to know God is a living God. One they can trust. One that is faithful and whose kingdom will never end.
On our first day at Gallery Church we were given the task of cleaning and straightening the children’s classrooms. As we were organizing a small library, Aida suggested we select 3-4 books for us to read to the children for their VBS program that week.
There were many books from which to choose for VBS. I saw Daniel and the Lion’s Den which has always been one of my favorite bible stories.
I knew the children would like that one and hoped, well probably strongly encouraged, Blakely to choose that Bible story which she and the others kindly choose as one of the books to read that week. I knew Daniel was a good role model for us all and the story is one which is easy to act out.
I could envision the youth acting as King Darius, his guards, and Daniel And then, I imagined that no matter how many kids we had, I knew we would have enough children to create a den of lions because really, who doesn’t like to roar like a lion occasionally.
And this is where our main character, Daniel comes into our week.
In our scripture reading this morning, we heard of Daniel’s excellent qualities. Daniel is brave and he is faithful. Daniel is courageous as he is tested during his time in Babylon. Daniel and his fellow Jews are exiles and minorities in a foreign land. Still, Daniel is a faithful servant of God who gives hope to God’s people.
Daniel was our hero too!
The story was a way to remind the children to trust God and to be faithful during both difficult times and easy times. The story was also
God’s way of reminding us, the mission team, to trust, trust, trust!
That week, after lunch, we would head off to our foreign land, Patterson Park.
Patterson Park is 137 acres of green space, with a swimming pool, ice-skating rink, athletic fields and a boat lake. The park hosts summer concerts at its restored Victorian pagoda, plus many other events happen at the park
First, we arrived at Gallery church, the mission team would gather our supplies and meet Aida and her daughter for our walk over to the main playground at Patterson Park. As you saw the youth demonstrate this morning, we piled up the wagon (and youth) with craft supplies, chalk, hula hoops, corn hole, balls and a cooler of drinks and granola bars. As we walked, we talked and joked. We would ask questions about the park and neighborhood and listen to Aida share about the ministry in which she and her husband were deeply committed and highly involved.
Aida always stressed the importance of bringing the community together, her hope was that the people who we met would come to worship and serve the Lord at Gallery church.
She and Bill, along with the members of the church felt called not only to serve the Latino community close to the church but also their multicultural neighbors. They wish to bring together their neighbors who were facing poverty and poor housing conditions along with their neighbors who were part of the gentrification of the neighborhood.
This mixture of affluence and poverty reminds me of Daniel.
Amid wealth and prosperity Daniel was striving to stay true to his God. He faithfully prays and stands up to the satraps who were trying to use their wealth, influence and knowledge of the laws to their advantage.
At Gallery church, Bill and Aida are serving God like Daniel, they are simply sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and caring for the people in their community despite all the opposing influences. Daniel is making God’s aliveness known as he stands up to those who get him thrown into the den of lions.
Bill and Aida and the members of Gallery Church are proclaiming that God is a Living God, the God of hope who will endure forever.
Daniel, placed in the court of the king, was the only one of his faith. His prayers were his comfort during difficulty. His prayers ignited his faith in God, and I am sure he hoped would inspire others to remain true to God.
Despite Daniel’s faithfulness, the other satraps sought to get rid of Daniel. First, they try to discredit him. Then, when that fails, they scheme to create a new law that the officials know he will disobey.
The satraps’ fear of the unknown drives them to ignore Daniel’s good character. Their dominance in the court allows them to make Daniel’s situation even worse. Not only does Daniel have to stay true to God while in exile in a foreign land but now his faith is put to the ultimate test…
The den of lions.
Now I can in no way compare our mission experience to Daniel’s. We were safe and had support the whole time we served with Gallery church in the park. But for me at least the Patterson Park was a foreign land filled with strangers and I must admit I felt awkward participating in a VBS program in the middle of a public park, talking to total strangers about God. But you see God had plans for us. God’s aliveness was all around as the children arrived at the park. I know, I know it just looks like a pile of your average toys. Nothing here is special or fancy, innovative or high tech. The children on the other hand saw balls! and hula hoops! and oh my bubbles!
Just like children do they jumped right into the fun. The youth were amazing as they invented new ways to play cornhole. They brought smiles and laughter to toddlers while blowing bubbles and coloring. They showed off their hula hooping skills and they were willing to be out done on the soccer field. Then, there was the most hilarious game of sharks and minnows …but I will let them tell you about that game.
God was alive and at work as we shared the gospel to our group of children.
I can see your questioning faces…You shared the gospel? In a park?
Yes, the Gospel of God’s love. You see, all we did was share.
Share our toys, our food and our loving kindness and the children and their parents were happy.
All we did was twirl a rope and blow some bubbles and the children laughed and the parents relaxed.
We simply had a lot of fun.
When the children were thirsty, we gave them drinks and when they were hungry, we offered them a granola bar. We made lion masks and enjoyed roaring at each other. God was alive and at work in our midst.
After all the running, kicking and tagging and after the coloring, bubble blowing and jumping we would all settle down for the bible story.
After all the lions roared and slept and Daniel was saved, we spoke to the children.
Daniel is faithful we told them. Daniel trusted God we said. See God shut the lions’ mouths because God knew Daniel had done no wrong.
God loves you we said, trust God, pray to God for God is with you always.
Then we played and laughed a little more. Ate the last of the granola bars and packed up to go home. Tired and sweaty we would walk back, bible story told, the cooler empty, the jump ropes tangled, and the bubbles all blown. A snack shared a hug exchanged.
The message given to the children: God loves you. Trust God. Pray to God for God is always with you. God’s message to our mission team. God is a living God, who is active and always with all of us.
Patterson Park became a place where we shared the gospel message of Jesus Christ and Jesus’ message of love and faithfulness. Patterson Park became a place where you could share a granola bar and a smile for a short time. Also, the park became a place of peace and security for a few children and their parents who live in uncertain times. For our little band of disciples, it became a place of friendship and joy.
We came as strangers not sure of each other. While we were there our band of disciples did what we could do with a few balls, toys and bible stories. In that moment of sharing everything changed. God became alive to all of us. The God of hope and peace, the God of never-ending love was in our playing and in our stories. Our snacks and juice were alive with God’s presence. Like in the lion’s den, the angels closed the mouth of fear and apprehension in us and we opened our hearts to the children and their parents there in the park for a few hours.
God opened my eyes to see that spreading the gospel and the love of Jesus Christ is only a matter of bringing Gods aliveness out into the open and sharing what we have with one another. God is at work. We must open our hearts to the people around us and share what we have with one another. God is calling us to meet our neighbors. Let us all be like Daniel as we faithfully trust God.
I learned this summer that all it takes to share the good news of Jesus Christ is a snack, a smile and some words of love.
God was alive in Patterson park and God is alive for us today.
Maybe that’s what Daniel knew deep in his heart. The one thing he could hold onto in exile in Babylon. He knew God was with him all the time. He could trust God. He knew God would show the king and all his servants who is the one true God.
My friends, sharing God’s aliveness, God’s love is what you and I are called to do. We are called to share this love with one another, with our friends and with strangers.
God is alive!
God is the living God, enduring forever!
Open your hearts to the people around you. Then share what you have. Kindness, a smile, a granola bar. Your love.
Then, watch what God will do.