A very long time ago, the summer after Janet and I were first married, Janet was introducing me to a northern Ontario Lake. A lovely place for sure.
There was an island that people would swim to. Not far from this beach. At least it didn’t look that far to my city eyes 😉
I went at it full speed. Feeling like a champ. I looked up to see how close I was. Thinking I was almost there, I was only ½ way there. Of course now I’m tired, I’m reminded that I’m a horrible swimmer, and I decide to get myself close to the floating line that went from the shore to the island.
I panicked, but Janet stayed close.
I felt a humbled, as the kids with their arm floaties, passed me by. She stayed close.
The life guards, through megaphones were telling me to stay clear of the rope. I didn’t listen to them. She stayed close.
We made it across. We laughed. I caught my breath. And eventually made our way back, slowly but surely. She stayed close.
I always wondered if we weren’t married by then, if Janet would’ve broken up with me from sheer embarrassment. But the contract was signed. And she continued to stay close.
Looking back on that day in the lake, I think of the verse from Isaiah 43 (we read it earlier) …’when you pass through the waters, I will be there.’
She was with me, every step (stroke), of the way. So is God.
The whole verse in Isaiah 43:2 mentions 3 kinds of metaphors for trouble or suffering:
– water (being deep)
– rivers (being tricky)
– fire (being impossible and the most scary of the three)
God says…I’ll be with you…it won’t sweep over you…it won’t consume you!
God gives one reason why: I am the Lord you’re God.
The purpose of God’s words to and through Isaiah are to given Israel, and us, for confidence to be able to walk through difficulty & suffering, in life and in mission, knowing that HE IS with us.
My little lake story involved water and therefore led me back to the first part of the verse.
I wonder, in your life, in your past or current struggles, which part of that verse resonates with you most.
Waters. Rivers. Fire. ???
I’d like us to turn to an Old Testament story that, among other things, reminds us of this truth – that in the fire, we are not consumed. I wonder if Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had Isaiah in mind when going through their own struggle and nightmare.Daniel 3…
- Babylon had besieged Israel
- They are not ruling themselves any longer
- The King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, ordered the smart ones, the ‘good’ Jews, to serve in the King’s palace.
- Among those were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
- A number of interesting things happen in chapters 1-2.
- King Neb, after some fancy wisdom from Daniel, even gives a shout out to Yahweh, Daniel’s God.
But in chapter 3 something shifts…
- King Neb makes an image, a statue of gold (some say it was to the god of Nebo)
- He calls the leaders to come to the dedication ceremony. They of course oblige.
- Then comes the command (3:5-6)
- “As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
- Cue the music (repeated 4x in ch.3)
- Interesting to note how many times the musical instruments are mentioned here. Like they wanted a very precise and recognizable cue.
- Some people go to the King to inform him that his favourite Jews will not be participating and not following his instructions. (3:12)
“But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”
- This doesn’t go over well with the King…
- (3:14) “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?… if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
- The punishment? Throw them in the furnace
- “What god will be able to rescue you from my hand.”
- Lots of pride in that statement
- Then comes 3:16-18…
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
- This really doesn’t go well with the King
- Raises the heat (7x)
- Throws the boys in, fully clothed and tied up.
- Then comes the fun, yet potentially tragic part of this story…
- 3:24-25…Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
- There’s a forth person in the fire
- The King changes his tune after this. Speaks well of Yahweh.
- A few chapters later, we read a similar story with Daniel (The Lion’s Den)
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What part of your story have others been able to say, “I see God in your circumstance’?
I hope and pray that when you go through the fire, someone looking on, a neighbour, a friend, family, co-workers, can say, “There’s no way you’re handling this on your own, someone must be helping you.”
When was the last time you realized, either gradually, or miraculously, that God showed up, or, was there the whole time?
This ancient story is a huge reminder that no matter what you’re going through, God is with you in your fire, in your storm, in your ridiculous situation.
Let’s not forget that this story is also very much about mission. It’s about 3 young men, being committed to who they are, being committed to following God, being committed to a value in their life, no matter the consequences. This begs the question: It’s one thing to say, ‘God be with me’, but can we say, confidently, ‘God, I’m with you?’
Please never stop inviting God to be with you or recognizing that God is with you in your fire, but can we also, like the young men in this story, say with confidence, ‘God, I’m with you. If you rescue me or not, if I make it or not, if I live or not, I’m with you?’
What does your fiery furnace look like? Sickness? Failure? Loss? Addiction? Abandonment? Broken Relationship? Poverty?
In a very intriguing interview with Stephen Colbert (host of the Late Night on CBS), we get a glimpse into his dark days of loss and grief. Two of Stephen’s brothers, along with his father, died when he was only 10 years old. He said of that season, “I was personally shattered, and then you reform yourself…it gives you a different world view than your peers.” His mother’s faith was an example to him. He learned that even the most difficult things in life can be a gift if you allow them to be. Suffering can be a way to become who you were intended to me, even though you wish the suffering never happened. He says, “It’s a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering. That’s my catholic faith coming out of me.”
Most times we ask, Why me?, but once we’re in it we start to ask, Why not me? Because others suffer all the time, I am not immune to it.
Stephen ends with these profound words. “In my tradition that’s the great gift of the sacrifice of Christ, that God suffers too – that you’re really not alone…God suffers too…and he is with me when I suffer.” (full interview here)
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This year our family feels like we’ve been a furnace. Suffering through the worst sickness. Cancer. My wife has been fighting for her life all year. Through all the emotions, all the interruptions, all the, for lack of a better word, crumminess, God has been with us. If I remove myself from the scene to look into my home from the outside, I can honestly say that there are not only 4 people living in my home. Janet, Jacob, Madison, and I…we are being kept company by Jesus. He’s with us. There’s a fifth person there. It’s God. He’s in our furnace, our deep waters, our storm.
And my hope is that we would live in such a way, that when my neighbours and friends look our way, they see him too. They might not be able to verbalize or articulate who he is (just like King Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t), but they will, in some profound way, know that we are not alone, and that God is with us.
One more thing. May we be so present in peoples lives, when they suffer, that they feel like the real presence and person of Jesus is with them too.
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Jesus…is with us in the fire.