Revisiting the Furnace

Most of us have heard the story of the three Hebrew boys and how they were thrown into a fiery furnace after refusing to bow to the idol. (Daniel 3) We read about their obedience to God, being thrown in, the guards dying from the heat, the king seeing them and the fourth man walking around, and them walking out of the fire not even smelling of smoke. But let’s pause for a moment. What about while they were inside? What happened…from their perspective?

The first thing they would have noticed, beyond the fact that they were still alive, was that the very fire intended to destroy them had, instead, burned away their bonds. They were thrown into the fire held captive and bound, but were likely loosed before they even hit the floor. Yes, they were still in the fire, but they could stand up, may have even playfully pulled each other up, and they could walk around as they liked. In truth, they were more free than they had been for a while. 

Many times in our lives, we find ourselves anticipating potential outcomes with dread, perhaps with such a fear that it binds us, holding us captive and keeping us from moving forward. Statistics say that what we fear almost never even happens. Think about that. How much time do we waste letting the fear of something that will NEVER HAPPEN hold us captive to the point that we can’t even move?

But the thing is that, once we’re thrown into the fire, that fear is burned away. The worst has already happened and, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we can look up from the floor of the furnace and realize, “Hey! I’m still here! I survived!”

I can imagine their surprised joy in that moment. They had dared declare God’s power to the king, assuring him that the One they served was more than able to deliver them. And He had. You know that special laughter that comes with joy? I can almost hear it. I can also see them turning to look through the flames, out the door, at the outside. Perhaps in the midst of their astonishment they wondered what they should do next. And then, just maybe, from behind them…

They heard a chuckle. Can you see them whipping around in even more shock and amaze? The king said the fourth man in the fire looked like the son of God. Presumably, he was right. They wouldn’t have known Him as “Jesus,” but their hearts would surely have recognized Him.

Now their backs are to the exit, the fire that surrounds them is pretty much forgotten, and their eyes are firmly focused on their first ever glimpse of the One they’ve offered their lives for. Though they have no way of knowing it, everything – literally everything – has changed. 

What words would Jesus have spoken to them? Did they ask all of the questions that had burned in their hearts for years? Did He… I can’t really even begin to propose what He might have said. We do know this, though. They spent some time in there. 

We don’t know how much time, but it was enough that the king eventually realized what he was seeing, pointed it out to his companions, and called out for the three to come out. Given the raging fire, and how loud it would have been, it seems to me that either the fire was allowed time to burn down or Jesus told them, “Hey guys, the king is calling.”

Regardless, stepping back inside with the kids… While I was homeschooling, I wrote an essay entitled “The View from Inside the Furnace,” and at this point I suggested that they, instead of being in the worst time of their lives (what it looked like) were actually on the field trip of a lifetime.

As they walk around, I imagine Jesus explaining exactly how this furnace works, how it is used to harness the destructive nature of fire and cause it to change things, transforming soft clay into usable, even valuable, vessels. Then I imagine Jesus sharing a few secrets about how He is going to use their time in the fire to do far more, not only to change them, making them more useful and valuable, but also change the world. I imagine…quite a lot, actually. 

Can you see the disappointment on their faces when either they finally hear the king calling or Jesus announces that their visit is over? The very thing that was at one time the ultimate threat has now become a refuge, a place they’ve been seeking their whole lives – a secret place where it is just them and Him. In all honesty, if it were me I’d have been like a child begging for “just one more story.”

Actually, I have been. I wrote the essay I referred to earlier during one of the hardest times of my life.  I intended it for friends who were worried about me, and with good reason. In the midst of the fire I learned things I could never have learned anywhere else, and I developed an intimacy with God that I had never known. As I shared with God in prayer at the time, I would never wish that fire on my worst enemy, but I desperately desired to take the intimacy with me when I walked back out of the flames. 

Those three boys had to feel the same way, but for them I think it almost had to be a harder walk to take, because Jesus came out of that furnace with me, staying always by my side, and they had to leave the fourth man behind, knowing they would likely never see Him face-to-face again.

And, as I imagine Jesus promising, their world changed – and not just for them. Yes, they were promoted and given all honor, but even more importantly God was promoted, and the king himself ordered that He be worshipped. Yes, our God was merely added to the list of gods they already worshipped, but it was a beginning.

So I leave us (Yep, this is a reminder for me.) with this. Serve God with all your heart and don’t fear the fire. Jeremiah 29:11 assures us that He has great plans for us, and Romans 8:28 promises that He can cause all things to work together for our good. Even a walk in a fire-filled furnace, though terrifying to face, can be  an amazing experience that prepares us for an astounding future. 

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

Build the Wall – Leave Your Mark

Whether or not you believe in the necessity of The Wall, you should take a moment to consider what is happening with the WeFund the Wall/We the People will Build the Wall movement.

Bottom Line: Individual Americans are rising up and declaring that, rather than wait for the government to fill the need, they will instead do their part to help make it happen. Thousands are contributing to a non-profit that plans to start building parts of The Wall very soon-without the government’s help.

This is huge. We live in a culture where we’re always waiting for someone else to step up, to reach out. It’s the government’s job to do this. It’s the Church’s job to do that. It’s the school’s job to do the other. These people are saying, “No, I don’t need to wait on them, to rely totally on them: I CAN HELP.”

Our Pastor has been ministering a lot, lately, on letting our lights shine, on being that city on a hill, on leaving our mark. In other words, on realizing that WE, the individuals that make up the church, have not only the responsibility but the power to meet needs where we find them. Our church has given us many opportunities to get into the community and meet needs, and is preparing for more, but the idea is bigger – that I, the person sitting in the pew, realize that I CAN HELP…and get myself out there and do it, being the hands and feet of Jesus in ways that make an impact on people’s lives.

Seeing what’s happening with WeFund the Wall brought Pastor’s teachings home. Yes, there are agencies and organizations out there to meet all sorts of needs, but it’s not just their job: it’s also mine. I have the responsibility and the power to make a difference in the lives I touch.

I CAN.

Celebrating Jesus!

Tammy C

It’s Just Color

ruby-and-sapphire-gemstones-300x300

Sapphires and rubies: They’re two very popular stones, and have been through the ages. I may be mistaken, but as I recall the ruby has consistently been the more valuable of the two.

When people think of sapphires, they generally envision a rich blue, but in reality sapphires come in a wide range of colors. My personal favorite is the pink sapphire—the hotter the better. I’ve never bought one for myself, though, because jewelers generally label them as rubies so they can get higher prices for them. Deceptive, no?

Well, it depends on how you define deception…and which deception you’re talking about. You see, rubies and sapphires are both corundum. They’re the same stone. Red, yellow, blue, or white, the only differences are their color and their perceived value.

The same is true of people. We were all made from dirt and will return to dirt. Yes, there are different colors of dirt, but it’s all dirt. Other than our delightfully variegated cultures, the only differences between the so-called races are color and perceived value. Like a customer who walks into a jewelry store, many have bought into the idea that one color is more valuable than another.

But it’s just color.

Celebrating Jesus!

Tammy C

The Road Home

Copyright Tammy Cardwell
Copyright Tammy Cardwell

Only a short distance from this bridge, over which I’ve passed numerous times through the years, lies the entrance to New Hope Cemetery. This is an old cemetery with a fascinating collection of aged headstones. This is a rustic cemetery and it holds the earthly remains of some of my nearest and dearest.

Too many times, we’ve followed a hearse over this bridge, taking a loved one to their final resting place. Several times, we’ve crossed the bridge to visit the graves of those we’ve not seen in so very long. The last time I was there–the day I took this picture–we were “visiting” Mother.

You’d think this bridge would represent loss to me, would inspire pain, but it doesn’t. Why?

The answer lies in the cemetery’s name–New Hope. Yes, we’ve laid our loved ones to rest here, but I know that in each and every case they were born again and destined for Heaven. For them, and those of us who expectantly wait to see them again, this place offers hope indeed–hope of that new life, true LIFE that will never end–eternal life in the very presence of God, surrounded by those we love so much…HOME.

So this picture shows a path of hope, a man-made construct that bridges the past and that glorious future as we follow the road home.

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

An Appropriate Gift

At one time, I was very much into Victoriana. I read period fiction, collected ephemera and other items from that era, subscribed to Victoria magazine…

That was a long time ago, or so it seems. I’d already moved in other directions when we pretty much lost everything we owned in 2010. Since then, the busy-ness of life and the demands of life’s necessities have drawn me even further away from that time of my life. 

So it would seem inappropriate for one of my oldest and dearest friends to send me a copy of Victoria’s A Woman’s Christmas for my birthday. It would seem…

I picked it up and was instantly drawn in. I was… actually… transported. I suddenly found myself back in those days when our boys were young and Christmas was still a magical time for me, when I could hardly wait to put up the tree and spent months planning and shopping for just the right gifts. 

Those days are gone-hopefully not forever, but to be honest I’ve had a hard time finding the magic of late. So I am very grateful to my friend for empowering me to touch it again. Bless you, Marilyn, for sending me such an appropriate gift. 

Celebrating Jesus!

Tammy C

Can’t Afford Not To

When I began actively serving God in August of 1980, it seemed perfectly natural to tithe. I’d been raised at least somewhat in church, so tithing wasn’t new to me, and my new pastor was wise enough to teach a little about tithing at every service. I also eventually discovered Malachi 3:8: “Will a man rob or defraud God? Yet you rob and defraud Me. But you say, In what way do we rob or defraud You? [You have withheld your] tithes and offerings.” [AMP] When I saw that we owe God not only our tithes, but our offerings, I actively began to make those offerings as well.

The man I married the next year believed as I did, so we continued to tithe and give offerings until we reached what I think of as our moment of stupidity. In looking at our budget, we decided we couldn’t afford to tithe, that we would continue to give to God as we could, but the 10% just wasn’t possible.

Within three months, all hell broke loose in our finances. Yes, money had been tight before, but we’d had no idea just how much God was blessing us until we started robbing Him and removed our right to that blessing. Three months after we stopped tithing, we admitted that we couldn’t afford not to tithe, repented, and got back to doing what we knew to do. Three months or so after that, things were back to “normal.”

It only took that one time for us to learn our lesson. We’ve tithed and given offerings ever since, and though there have been undeniably tight times God has always blessed us, making our money stretch to seemingly impossible lengths. Clearly, no matter how challenging our financial situation gets, we always know it could be a LOT worse.

No, we can’t afford not to tithe – and give offerings.

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

We Lay Our Crowns

There is a line in a song we sing in church: “We bow down. We lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus.”

We sing this song in the present tense, and I recently realized the importance of doing this very thing. We may not wear literal crowns today, but most of us have areas in which we feel we rule, parts of our lives in which we take pride (often rightfully so), places where our “hat” is a crown.

When we lay everything else at Jesus’ feet–our burdens, our brokenness, our sickness, our pain–we should lay these crowns at His feet as well. In doing this, in submitting one’s whole life to Him, you see those strong places strengthened even more; also, when you recognize that no matter how much you “rule” in an area it is He who reigns supreme, you steer clear of the sin of pride.

It is far better to lay one’s crown down that to have it removed as a result of sin.

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C