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

My Fear

It’s strange…the places you can stumble across revelation. I was registering on a website when the security question asked me, “What is your greatest fear?” Without hesitation, I typed my answer.

FAILURE

Then I sat staring at it, wondering where THAT had come from. It wasn’t long before I admitted to myself, for perhaps the first time, that this has been the truest answer to that question from the time I was a small child. While others went out and did things that looked fun, I sat on the sidelines.

I never tried because I was afraid to fail.

As an adult, I’ve learned better. I understand that failure is part of the learning process. At least…I understand it on a superficial level. My instant answer to the question, though, shows that I still have some very real issues.

So it’s time to self-assess. I’ve conquered this fear in so many areas, but I’ve got to move forward and eliminate it in more. I mean, really, at this point in my life how bad can failure be?

I’ve already raised my kids; any failures I had there are over and the damage done. That’s one of the biggest potential problem areas I can think of in this life. Well, other than failing where your relationship with God is concerned, and I work in building that all the time.

It’s time to kick my fear to the curb, to realize that it’s STUPID. Yes, I said stupid. Me failing at something might lead to my embarrassment, but it won’t result in WW3. Besides, how many times did Jesus issue the encouragement, “Fear not!”?

What about you?

What is your biggest fear?

And what are you going to do about it?

Celebrating Jesus!

Tammy C

Sister Adventures

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Photo Credit: Memories in Motion Photography (Candace Townsend)

Isn’t it special how the truly exciting things in life often involve our siblings? My sister Clarissa and I, even though we had our times of disliking each other growing up, have always played together. The last two years have been no different. First, after much prayer, we opened a clothing boutique. Coming from an entrepreneurial family, it would seem such a move would be obvious, but we’d never even considered going into business together before. We actually closed the business a couple of weeks ago, but that’s for later.

Then there was the day she dragged me to the gun range. She has a concealed carry license and had been telling me for months that I needed a break and shooting is therapy, so one day I caved and joined her to take my turns shooting both of her handguns (I preferred the .38, if anyone cares). I think I frustrated her when I refused to come out and say I’d had fun, but I did have to confess that it was very satisfying to try something completely new and do so well. In fact, it was a gift.

To understand my satisfaction, you have to know that I was always afraid of failure when I was young. I never learned to skate, for instance, because I feared making a fool of myself. Doing so well my first time at the range was extremely satisfying. Will I ever return to the range? I don’t know. It’s hard to excuse spending so much money on ammo when you’re only doing it for kicks.

Third, we went out of business with a bang. Sounds ridiculous, right? Going out of business is usually a terrible thing, but this was different. We prayed and considered carefully before concluding that it was the right move for us, and then we did something so exciting it still gives me goose bumps. We took all of our clothing and gave it away at a shelter for battered women. ALL of it. Many of these moms had taken their kids and run with only the clothes on their backs and what little they could carry. Seeing their joy at freely choosing several brand new outfits each was AMAZING, and it satisfied a long-held dream of mine.

I’ve always wanted to do something big – like give away a car or something. It wasn’t on my Bucket List, because I’ve always thought a Bucket List was for things that were at least somewhat within reach. If it had been on a list, I’d have called it my Dream Big list.

Because God led Clarissa and me into this particular adventure in the first place, my relatively small investment in our business was turned into something huge. When we calculated what we’d given to the shelter, we’d done the equivalent of giving away a car – a new car. You might think I’d regret investing money and time into a business that would close down after a year and a half, but I don’t; I consider it a huge blessing. Even if this final thing were the only reason we’d launched Cady’s Closet, I would say it was a grand adventure, and I haven’t stop smiling since we set up our pop-up boutique for the last time.

Now I’m looking forward to our next adventure. Sisterhood is an awesome thing.

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

Self-confidence

Copyright Tammy Cardwell 2014
Copyright Tammy Cardwell 2014

The portrait you’re looking at took me so long to complete that the one who commissioned it could have had a baby while she waited. Why did it take me so ridiculously long to finish such a simple piece? Was I so overbooked with commissions that my pencil couldn’t fly fast enough?

Hardly.

This commission came in while I was working on a special piece for an auction. The image, which happened to be of Jesus, had been in my head for years and I was excited to draw it. The auction supports great ministries, and I was thrilled to be able to contribute. Everything was going perfectly. The wood of the cross looked awesome. The clothing draped just right. The hands were amazing. and then I got to the head and face; these were my undoing. No matter how hard I worked, how much I reworked, I simply could not get it right. And then I ran out of time.

I “finished” the drawing, but even as I took it to the framer I was ashamed of it. It wasn’t just bad; it was humiliatingly, publicly bad. That it sold for less than I’d paid to have it framed was no surprise; I was glad it brought anything at all – and hoped that everyone would forget I’d produced anything so regrettable.

I have no idea how many pencil portraits I’ve done through the years, but I’ve drawn enough that I feel confident in saying I’m good at what I do. Even so, this whole experience shattered my self-confidence. the wise thing would have been to pick my pencils right back up and start on something else – anything else – but I didn’t. It was many months before I could bring myself to even pull out my supplies. Admittedly, laziness and procrastination were factors in the delay, but they were fed by fear of failure.

Strange as it may seem, I share this story to encourage you. How many singers have had their confidence hammered after blowing the National Anthem on the Little League field? How many young dancers have been ready to quit after going left while everyone else danced gracefully to the right? How many aspiring thespians have considered switching to Botany after mangling a monologue? It happens to the best of us.

Sometimes, hopefully most of the time, we’re able to stand back up, brush ourselves off, and get back to it. Then there are the times when we lie there, paralyzed for a while before something gives us the strength to rise again.

Swiftly or slowly (Swiftly is so much better!), the key is to DO IT. When hit with such a blow, we need to be like David who, after discovering the destruction at Ai, encouraged himself (1 Sam 30:6) and managed to get up and do the next thing – and he recovered all that had been lost. Fear is a terrible enemy, but we can conquer it. YOU can!

I’m not proud of how long it took me to complete this portrait. I am, however, proud of the work; it is every bit as good as I knew (somewhere inside) it could be. I am also grateful for the amazing patience of the friend who commissioned it, and for the vitally important lesson I’ve learned once again.

“Down” is not someplace anyone wants to be, especially over something so absurd. I’ve decided that, should such a thing happen again, I will take a page from David’s book and encourage myself (or read myself the Riot Act). I have to; there’s another picture waiting to be drawn!

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C