February 21, 2016 – Facing the Fire

Daniel 3:1-28

        I am not sure how many of you are familiar with this story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. This is a classic story of the big, bad king versus the few rebels who chose to stand up against him. Even if the story isn’t familiar, the theme should be.  Look at the stories of Robin Hood or Luke Skywalker, even fairy tales like Snow White or Cinderella. You have a distinct bad guy in these stories who is eventually overcome by the good guys.  Biblical themes tend to run throughout many Hollywood productions.

Our classic bad guy for today is King Nebuchadnezzar. Throughout the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament as we know it) we follow the lives of God’s chosen people, the Israelites.  At the heart of this particular story, the Israelites had strayed from the one, true God and had been worshipping other gods. During this time the Israelites were conquered and sent into exile in Babylon.  Three young Hebrew men were serving as slaves in the king’s court – they were named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  At some point during their time in the court, King Nebuchadnezzar built an idol of himself and commanded everyone to bow down at certain times during the day and worship it.  Yet our heroes, aka rebels, were always taught to worship only God almighty – the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Even when sent into exile, these three recognized God as always being faithful to God’s people. Already we see the plot thicken and the suspense mounting.

This grand idol was built in proportions that EVERYONE could see. It was approximately 81 feet high and 9 feet wide.  If you ask me that’s a tall skinny statue!  Whatever the true measurements, you can be assured it was big enough for everyone to see it no matter where they were in the kingdom.  And like trained monkeys, the people were commanded to bow down and worship this idol whenever they heart the special signal.  It probably became automatic to the people – they would bow down without thinking about any meaning behind their actions simply because they were trained to do it.  It seems like being on automatic pilot similar to the path we take everyday to get to our jobs. Have any of you ever made the mistake of heading off to work only to discover you meant to go somewhere else that day?  You might even find yourself heading in the complete opposite direction of your destination because you are used to going the other way simply out of habit.

Our three heroes are unique in this kingdom because they never got into the habit of worshipping at the sound of the signal.  From the very beginning they had refused to follow the king’s law, noting that on this matter they answered to a higher authority.  For no matter how big the king’s statue was, they served something bigger and greater than any earthly image.  Their love for the one true God superseded their king’s requirement to bow down to his self-made image.  They understood the possible consequences of this defiance and chose to follow God.

I wonder how many of us would do the same? I do not think that we have to be greatly concerned with the possibility of physical persecution for worshipping God in this country. For us it is a matter of putting God first and foremost in our lives. Yet so many things often vie for our time and attention that we have a tendency to put God in a not-so-important place when shuffling priorities. Our hottest commodity lately seems to be time.  We steal time from some things to focus on others. Time is limited so we have to pick and choose what we we will do with our time. Many are accused of wasting time on various tasks,yet to those performing the tasks of texting or video-gaming, Facebooking or net surfing, the priority has been set.  Each year around January 1, many of us put getting healthier as a top priority on our to-do lists.  Suddenly we make time for exercising and eating healthy alternatives, hopefully with long-term results. Those of us with children seem to be juggling more and more as time becomes scarce. Many of us steal time from our sleep, working longer hours and putting our need for sleep in the background of importance.

Where does God fit into our busy schedules? What priority do we give God when we have to choose how we spend our time? Our heroes Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were facing certain death under the hands of a vicious king, yet they chose to make God a priority and worship only the one true God of Israel – a bold choice to say the least. As we follow the story the king got word that these three were purposefully disobeying their king. Ironically, the king attempted to show them a little mercy, giving them one final chance to bow down with the rest of the kingdom and worship the king’s idol or die in a fiery furnace. They chose the possibility of death over placing an idol in the position of God.  Daniel 3:17 says, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.” But listen to verse 18: “But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

How challenging is it to be faithful to God when times are hard? When things are going well it is easy to praise God, but can we do it when things are tough? When we are facing health issues with ourselves or our parents it is not so easy to worship God. When we are facing the loss of a job it is not so easy to trust in almighty God. When dealing with the loneliness after losing a loved one it is not easy to see through the pain and hear God’s words of assurance.  Yet those are the times when we seem to grip a faith we didn’t even know we had.  Those are the times when we dig in and trust God who sees the bigger picture even when we can’t. Those are the times when we find God’s strength and comfort, even when faced with a fiery furnace.

Our heroes were willing to die for their faith and this infuriated the king. He ordered the furnace to be heated to 7 times hotter than usual and had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego throne in bound hand and foot.  But God had a purpose for these three. King Nebuchadnezzar received quite a shock when he saw not 3 but 4 people walking around in the furnace unharmed. Do you know that God is with you always? Do you feel God’s presence in the midst of terrible trial? You are the children of God, cared for by the mighty Creator.  God is not one to leave us when we need God most. God is faithful as we see this with our heroes. They are able to walk out of the furnace unharmed with not even the stench of smoke on their clothing.

Many today seem to feel that God is not always faithful Otherwise, why would God allow so much tragedy to occur? Know that God never guaranteed a smooth path. God never guaranteed that we would not suffer the ups and downs of everyday life. But God did promise to walk with us through the valleys as well as the mountaintops.  God came to us through God’s son Jesus Christ, who experienced the suffering and pain of crucifixion. God’s love for us is so powerful that we can find strength in times of heartache and trial; we can find comfort in the darkest times of our lives.  Our faith is strengthened as we learn to trust God in all things and make God a priority in our lives.

As we journey through the season of Lent we are asking the question – What are you searching for?  What is hindering us from experiencing a life of peace and joy that comes from knowing God has our full attention – our top priority?  What is preventing us from accepting God’s love for ourselves?  I encourage you to ponder these questions this week.  Spend time in prayer. Seek God’s will for your lives.  Seek God’s will for our church – this body of Christ.  Seek out ways to share God’s love with others – often small gestures go a long way toward healing for someone who is feeling hurt and abandoned by everyone.  Take time to quiet you mind and spend time with your Creator. Our prayer services continue on Wednesdays throughout Lent.  If you need a dedicated space and time to pray that’s it.

Our nation is heading into election season. I truly believe our nation is in desperate need of prayer.  Are we ready in our hearts and minds to seek first the kingdom of God? Only then can we find true rest for our souls, and feel the real peace that we have been seeking all along. Amen.

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