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

He is I AM

Jesus said to His disciples, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:58)

I’m sure you’ve heard someone, at some point, refer to a Scripture as having leapt off the page while they were reading. This is one of those verses for me. There I was, reading along, when suddenly I SAW Jesus say, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”

I’ve heard this verse used to support Jesus’ divinity, as it hearkens back to God’s declaration to Moses, but the revelation I gained in that moment was entirely different.

Picture me sitting there, stunned expression on my face, realizing that He’s saying “I AM before Abraham,” that even though He was standing there talking to them He was also, at the same time, before Abraham was born!

The revelation hit me in a moment, but it took my brain weeks to process it. Throughout my days, I kept going back to the thought the way you keep returning to a pot that’s simmering on the stove. I even pulled out my concordance and sought out similar times when God made such references to Himself.

You see, I’d always heard it taught that God was saying, “I am _________ (insert your need in the blank,” meaning He is whatever you need.
I am your Savior.
I am your deliverer.
I am your healer.
I am your provider.

This is all true, and lines up with the very names of God. The challenge is that Scripture isn’t two-dimensional. You can look at it one way today and see that it means one thing, and realize tomorrow that it means that and much more. The challenge is to keep from getting locked into only one view.

As I meditated on Jesus’ declaration, God lifted another verse from the page. “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10) It was as if He were writing me a personal message.

Be still and know that I AM
~God

It’s a fact: Time is meaningless to God. Yes, we find it hard to comprehend this truth, because it’s almost everything to us, but I’m convinced that its only use to God is that it helps us keep our own lives in order. Well, perhaps that’s an oversimplification, but you get my point.

Through the weeks, I slowly gained an understanding that GOD IS, that even as God IS with me as I type this, He IS also with Moses in the desert and Adam in the garden. At first, it was almost like a mental exercise. I’d been given a new piece of information and was slowly grasping what it meant, what its significance would be in my life. Like watching the sun slowly creep up over mountains, I knew something was coming. And I was actively watching for it.

And then the day dawned.

We’d been dealing with CPS (Child Protective Services). The report was completely bogus but, like everyone else who has ever been accused, we had been doing our part to prove wrong the accusations made against us. On “that” day, I walked out my front door, heading to the mailbox, and I suddenly GOT IT. Even as I took those steps, I prayed something along the lines of, “Daddy, you’re in all times at once, so I ask that you do whatever you have to do three days ago for there to be a letter in the mailbox today saying, ‘We’re so sorry. We’ve found nothing wrong. We’re dropping the whole thing.’”

The letter was there. It didn’t say, “We’re so sorry,” but I really didn’t care. That was the day my prayer life radically changed, the day I realized that what I call retroactive prayers are a thing.

Have you ever received a prayer request at noon for a surgery that was taking place at seven, and felt terrible because the surgery was surely over and all you could pray for was a swift healing? But you can still pray in such situations! God, who is with you when you get the request, is – at that same moment – with the person before they go into surgery, in surgery, and as they come out. Truly, since God isn’t bound by time, there’s almost no such thing as “too late” for Him. (Almost. There are definite spots in Scripture where God declares to man that time is up.) I mean that literally.

We’ve heard it said that when a man is dead he’s dead, that you might as well stop praying for him. As a Protestant who doesn’t believe in Purgatory, I understand where that teaching comes from, but I don’t entirely agree. Not anymore.

The fact is that the same God who is with me now is – even now – with a specific young lady I’m thinking of who died in a car wreck, and He is capable of reaching out to her in those last few moments and saving her soul. Yes, I asked Him to as I learned about her. It is true that, even at the end, she might have resisted Him, but I still have the ability, the right, to ask Him to try. He told me so Himself.

Be still and know that I AM.
~God

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

What’s Your Motivation?

I did an in-depth study many years ago and reached a very important conclusion.

WHAT I do is important. Getting into God’s Word, learning what He wants me to do, and making sure I do the right thing… Important. But even more important than WHAT I do is WHY I do it.

In other words, motivation is everything. God doesn’t just want our actions to be right, our appearance and performance to be acceptable; He wants our hearts to be right. I can go to church, hug my neighbors, raise my hands in worship, give liberally in the offering… but if my heart isn’t in it, if I’m only going through the motions so I’ll look good to others or satisfy some legalistic need inside of me, I’M WRONG.

And if I’m wrong, the only thing I need to be doing is getting right. It’s time for me to go to Him and ask for His forgiveness and help, to pray with the psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” [Psalm 51:10 (KJV)]

Celebrating Jesus!

Tammy C

PS: The verse in the graphic is from the NLT.

Why Church? Where Two or Three…

In Matt. 18:20, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

In the introduction to this series, I mentioned the man who told me he could get just as close to God on the lake as at church. I know you can get very close to God on the lake, but if that is your only place of worship you ignore this verse. Now, he might answer, “My buddy and I are two…” but I’d hazard a guess that he and his buddy would have gathered in the name of fishing and merely invited the Lord to join them. That’s not quite the same thing.

There are obviously many places in which two or more gather in Jesus’ name and enjoy being in His presence. Care groups, prayer meetings, small groups… They’re all wonderful, and I strongly support them for many reasons. I can’t see them being a replacement for church, though. The more we come together in His name, and enjoy the benefits of being together in His presence, the better.

Celebrating Jesus!
Tammy C

Why Church? The Big Picture

Coming together, as a body, in God’s presence, has been a part of our relationship with God from the first day He walked with Adam in the cool of the evening. When God laid out the Law through Moses, as He worked on turning this group of people into a true nation, He specifically told them to come to the place of meeting for certain feasts every year – no matter how far away they lived.

In Jesus’ day, they customarily went to Temple every week. We see repeatedly that it was Jesus’ custom throughout His ministry, and in the book of Acts we learn that the disciples continued to do the same. The disciples also met from house to house in the book of Acts.

I see an interesting progression here. At first, the requirement was to gather a few times a year, though obviously the more often a man came to Temple the better. In Jesus day, on the Sabbath was a standard. After the death, burial, and resurrection we see the true disciples meeting pretty much daily.

Now look at us. A very few who claim to be Christians meet twice a week. A few more meet once a week. The majority (here in the US anyway) who claim to be Christians might make it to church on Christmas and/or Easter.

It looks to me like we’re regressing rather than progressing.

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