Years ago, I served at a little country church in a booming metropolis of 65 people in northcentral Minnesota. The church was about a half mile from my house, so I would frequently walk to and from the church building, taking a shortcut through the cemetery.
Now, I’m a city boy at heart. Before living there, we had lived the previous 12 years in the city, so this whole “country thing” was quite a culture shock for me.
One mid-December evening, I set out from church to walk home for dinner. It was about 5 p.m. so it was already dusk. As I entered the cemetery, I noticed a waft of smoke rising from behind a gravestone. Curious, I decided to go investigate, although very cautiously. As I approached the graveside, the hairs on the back of my head started to stand up. The adrenaline was pumping through my veins. Then my worst fear was confirmed when I discovered what appeared to be a makeshift casket made of sheet metal sitting on top of the ground directly behind a stone. The casket was partially covered and there were flames shooting out of the opening. I was freaked out! I tried to look inside, but I just couldn’t get my body to move as I imagined a burning corpse inside.
I ran home, keeping a watchful eye over my shoulder, thinking “what the… did I just witness?” A red-neck burial ceremony? A satanic ritual? A murderer destroying the evidence? All of these thoughts were rushing through my head. Should I call the police? Should I do my own private detective work? Or do I just keep quiet, pretending I never saw a thing?
I was still mulling all of this over the next day as I was walking to church again through the cemetery (it was light this time). Where the fire had been, there were two men digging out a grave. When I arrived at church, I told two church matriarchs about what I had experienced. They laughed hysterically at me. Apparently, the fire was to soften the frozen ground so they could dig. Phew! Now I’m really glad I didn’t call anyone, or it would take me years to live it down with the local authorities (although I’m sure my story still lives on in church lore).
The Heat is on
There’s something about fire that’s really cool and mesmerizing… unless you’re in it. Fire is beautiful from a distance, but it’s pretty scary and painful up close.
In life, you’re going to have to endure some flames. Everyone has to face some fires – stress, pressure, pain, suffering, crisis, tragedy, etc.
What do you do when the heat is on?
When your marriage is falling apart?
When your kids are rebelling?
When the bills are overdue?
When you needed a job yesterday?
When people are pressuring you to do something you don’t want to do?
When everything seems to be going to hell?
What can you do? How will you make it through?
For many of us, our level of fear and anxiety rises with the temperature. As the old saying goes, “If you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.” And for many of us, that’s exactly what we do. We end the relationship, we quit the job, we move away… all to avoid the fear and pain of the fire.
In life you’re going to experience some heat. Count on it. Do you really want to live your life on the run? Or curled up in the corner in the fetal position (been there, done that)? What if I told you there is a way, not just to endure the heat, but to walk through the flames?
Let’s look at a story from the book of Daniel in the Bible to see how three young men faced fear of the fire and how they handled the heat.
What’s in a Name?
In 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, attacked and conquered Judah (Daniel 1:1-2). Following his victory, Nebuchadnezzar ordered that the best and brightest young men of Judah be deported to Babylon. His plan was to indoctrinate these young men for three years with Babylonian culture: language, food, history, and religion. Then he would give some of them positions in the royal court (Daniel 1:3-5). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (their Babylonian given names) were among this group.
The three years of training in Babylon were really an attempt to brainwash the Jewish captives. Nebuchadnezzar wanted Rack, Shack, and Benny (their Veggie Tales given names), and the others to become so indoctrinated in Babylonian culture that at the end of their training they would think and act like Babylonians. Even the names of the young men were changed from their original Hebrew names (Daniel 1:6-7). Their Jewish names honored their God, Yahweh, but their new names honored the gods of the Babylonians. Every attempt was made to make them forget about their God and forget their identity.
Basically, they said, “Whenever we call your names, we want you to think of the Babylonian gods, not your God.” This is the way Satan works.
If Satan can make you forget who God is and who you are in relationship to Him, then that allows him to rule you with FEAR.
Many of you maybe can relate to this. All your life, you’ve heard some lies about yourself and you start to believe them. Maybe you’ve heard people say, “You’re never going to amount to anything,” and after you’ve heard it enough, you start to believe that. “You’re never going to make a difference. You’re not good enough. You’re stupid. You’re a loser. You are pathetic. No matter how hard you try, your life will never count,” and you’ve heard it over and over and over again, and you start to believe it.
This is why we felt so strongly about giving our sons virtuous names (Justus, Tranquil, and Noble). We want them to know who they are in Christ; how God sees them. No matter what anyone tells you, you are just, you are peaceful, you are noble. We want them to hear the truth about themselves every time we call their names.
If Satan can make you forget who God is and who you are in relationship to Him, then that allows him to rule you with FEAR.Tweet
Faith under fire
So here they are – three young dudes, kidnapped and being held hostage as strangers in a strange land with a strange culture, strange religion, and strange rituals.
King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then he sent messages to the high officers, officials, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials to come to the dedication of the statue he had set up. So all these officials came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” (Daniel 3:1–6, NLT)
How’s that for tolerance? We don’t care what culture or country you’re from. We don’t care what language you speak or religion you believe. We play, you obey! Worship or die! Bow or fry! And everyone bowed down except for three men, who stood tall: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And when the king found out about these men, he was furious and called them in and said,
“I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” (Daniel 3:15)
Can your faith handle the fire?
Can your faith handle the fire of a global pandemic? Unanswered prayers? A fallen Christian leader or mentor? Can your faith handle personal loss of possessions, health, or someone that you love?
A faith that is tested is a faith that can be trusted.
Think about these young men for a moment. They were probably somewhere between 16 and 25 years old. They had dreams and hopes for the future. They wanted to get married, raise a family, and make a difference. They wanted to live.
They were just going about their business when and all of a sudden, they are faced with this unbelievable choice. “All you have to do is bow down this one time. Come on! Everybody else is doing it. It will be fun!”
But if you don’t, it’s game over.
This is truly a life or death decision.
A faith that is tested is a faith that can be trusted.Tweet
What would you do?
If it were me, I might be tempted to do it. Just this once. What could it hurt? But fire? Fire hurts. I mean really, I want to make a difference and how can I do that if I’m dead? I want to expose people to the true God and if I’m dead, I can’t do that. So, it might be better to bow down just this once. I’ll just go along with the program. I won’t really mean it. It’s political. It’s just business.
We have a way of rationalizing our decisions because we’re afraid of what others might think. We’re afraid of the consequences. We are living a life of compromise.
The HEAT is literally on. How will our courageous guys respond?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames. (Daniel 3:16–23)
This is it. This is the end. What good does courage do if it gets you dead? “Nezzy” turned up the heat and our three valiant heroes stood against it. And it costs them their lives.
Or did it?