When we think of summer, what’s the first thing we think of? Usually the heat. Temperatures in the 90s. High humidity making it feel like it’s over 100O.
We think of vacations. We think of taking time off work for a few days to get away from the hectic rat-race of our lives. We look forward to the break. We look forward to experiencing something new.
Many times we go some place on vacation to get cool: the beach. Swimming in the ocean. Swimming in the pool. Or you go to that waterpark to get some relief from the heat.
We try to escape the heat in any way we can.
When we think of summer we also think of grand firework displays — celebrating the 4th of July.
Summer also reminds us of things like family reunions and county fairs.
Summer brings camping.
Camping brings campfires. Sitting around a campfire whether as a family or at some place like church camp, enjoying the warmth at night. Roasting marshmallows. Making s’mores. Cooking hotdogs on tree twigs.
And when we are not away from home, we fire up that old grill, put on some steaks, hamburgers or hotdogs, and listen to them sizzle. The aroma fills the entire neighborhood.
Summer is certainly filled with hot.
Summer is certainly about the sizzle.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to look at some “hot” stories from the Bible — during our sizzling hot summer. From these stories, I hope that we re-discover some of God’s characteristics that, we as we get older, we take for granted.
Then, we will close out this study considering how we should react to those characteristics of God.
This morning, I want to start with a very familiar story from the Old Testament, found in Daniel 3.
The names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have captured our imaginations in various settings. They have been set to music. Parents have used them to put their children to bed: “Shadrach, Meshach, and To-Bed-We-Go.” I ran across one that I thought was original: “Your shack, my shack, and the bungalow.”
Despite, though, the catchy sounds of these names, the actual story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3 is one of great intensity and drama.
There’s much we can learn from this story about God from their encounter with Nebuchadnezzar and the fiery furnace.
If you remember, at the end of Daniel 2, Daniel was able to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Because of this, the King made Daniel a very senior officer in the empire of Babylon.
At Daniel’s suggestion, the King also gave Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego positions of authority in the province of Babylon.
At that point, these boys are still just that — boys — teenagers at best — most likely not even 21 years old.
By the time we get to chapter 3, though, about 20 years has elapsed. During this time, these three had been serving as officials of the government, and as a matter of course, they had gained responsibilities, authority, and enemies.
So, let’s look at Daniel 3 to pick up the story.
1 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. 2 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. 3 So all these officials came and stood before the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
4 Then a herald shouted out, “People of all races and nations and languages, listen to the king’s command! 5 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. 6 Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
7 So at the sound of the musical instruments, all the people, whatever their race or nation or language, bowed to the ground and worshiped the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
8 But some of the astrologers went to the king and informed on the Jews. 9 They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Long live the king! 10 You issued a decree requiring all the people to bow down and worship the gold statue when they hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments. 11 That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12 But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3, NLT)
1. The first thing we learn here is that there will be fires in our lives if we stand for God.
It was true in the time of the Old Testament in Babylon where God’s people were aliens and foreigners.
It’s true today where God’s people are aliens and foreigners in our world.
When Jesus began teaching the Sermon on the Mount, He included these words close to the beginning:
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted
for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5, NKJV)
It’s just a matter of time before someone is going to oppose us because we are standing for God.
Since the beginning of time, God’s people have been persecuted by those who are the followers of the Devil himself.
It is because of belief and faith in God that countless lives have been lost. Infidels have done everything they can to try to silence the message of the Gospel.
Martyrs have lost their lives trying to send the message of hope and love to a broken world.
We think we have it hard sometimes because people say bad things about us because we proclaim faith.
In our country, in our society, we really have no idea what it means, though, to suffer through proverbial fires because of our faith.
From Robert Leroe's Sermon "Walking Fearlessly"
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There's a cartoon that puts persecution in perspective. In the four panels, we see people praying:
First a New Testament Christian: "Lord, give me the courage to face this accusing mob."
Then a Reformation Christian: "Lord, help me declare Your truth despite the cost."
A 20th Century believer from Soviet Russia: "Lord may we persevere faithfully under these burdens."
Then finally, today's American Christian: "Lord, the Audi's been running rough lately."
Though funny, it does put into perspective the sacrifices others have made in order to honor and stand for God.
Truth be told, I believe that we are probably heading into a period where we will experience fires in our lives for standing up for the faith, for spreading the message of the Gospel, for doing what is right.
And whether they are significant, life-changing fires or they are minor inconveniences, we can expect that we will have fires in our lives because of our trust in God. The devil is not going to let us have a free pass in this life if we truly are giving our all to God.
2. It is also true that we may not escape the fires in this life.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego understood this.
If we continue reading from Daniel 3, picking up with verse 13:
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, 14 Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? 15 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?”
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 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. 18 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.” (Daniel 3, NLT)
It was a reality that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were willing to face — that God may not save them from the fire of the furnace.
BUT IF NOT.
God may not intervene and rescue them from the flames that would ultimately take their lives.
A “hard to accept” truth when we are facing flames in our lives.
A “tough pill to swallow” as we are enduring suffering.
A bitter-sweet reality as we struggle through persecution.
Persecuted For Faithfulness
By Isaac Butterworth
Source: “Laos: Rejected for Christ, Part 3—Philip.” 2 January 2018. Voice of the Martyrs. Web. 2 August 2018. < https://vom.com.au/laos-rejected-christ-part-3-philip/>.
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Voice of the Martyrs reports the experience of a young man named Philip, who lives in Laos. Philip walked two hours to another village to hear the gospel.
Just three weeks after he returned home as a new believer, the police paid him a visit. They told him that any religion other than Buddhism was strictly forbidden in the region where he lived. They accused him of embracing the faith of foreigners and warned him that things were sure to go badly for him.
Sometime later, the authorities pressed him to sign a document renouncing his newfound faith. He refused, and, before long, his neighbors, incited by the local government, killed his livestock and harassed his children.
Philip and his family had to move to another village. Asked why he remained a Christian when it caused him such difficulty, he said, “My people are in darkness, worshiping they-know-not-what, and they are enslaved in their sin. I must tell them about Jesus, the only one who can save them from the destruction that awaits them.”
Others, like Philip, have suffered the loss of their jobs and their property. Some have been rejected by their family and friends. And many have been murdered for their faith in Christ.
Do we have the courage like Philip, knowing that we may not be saved from the physical fires?
Are we faithful?
Can we truly say that we will still believe, even if God doesn’t quench the fires of Satan all around us?
British Forces Trust God's Promises in World War II Battle
Gettner Simmons, "The Words Still Resound," Omaha World-Herald (4-24-11); submitted by Ted De Hass, Bedford, Iowa
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In a moving tribute for the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, a local newspaper in Nebraska referred to an incident from World War II. In the spring of 1940, the German army was plowing through France despite the help from more than 300,000 British troops. (U.S. troops were not involved in this battle.)
Finally, the Germans surrounded and trapped most of the Allied forces at Dunkirk, a town in northern France. It appeared that the Allied army would face annihilation or surrender.
Eventually, through a miraculous outpouring of courage, the British managed to organize an amazing flotilla of hundreds of little ships that evacuated most of the Allied forces. But before the evacuation, at one point when everything looked utterly hopeless, allegedly a British officer sent the following message, condensed into three powerful words: "But if not …." At the time it was a strong message of courage and of ultimate hope in the midst of trouble. The message conveyed that the British would stand defiantly against the Nazis and that God would provide a way through the dark night.
The Nebraska newspaper article went on to explain the background to the three-word message: "But if not" came straight from the King James Bible. As the prophet Daniel and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, faced the fiery furnace, they refused to go down in defeat.
Instead, they declared their trust in God even if their mission failed.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s faith did not come from God rescuing them, but rather that if He so chose, God could.
3. Herein lies this promise — Even if God does not save us from the fires, God will be with us in the fires of life.
Let’s pick up the account starting in verse 19:
19 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. 20 Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. 22 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. 23 So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.
24 But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.
25 “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!” (Daniel 3, NLT)
Now, there is as many speculative theories about who this fourth man was as there are scholars.
Some say that an angel was in the furnace with them.
Some speculate that Jesus Himself made an appearance in the furnace, before anyone actually knew who Jesus would be.
Who knows except God Himself who He sent to protect His servants.
The message here, though, is one of great hope: that God will be with us in the fires of our lives! God will not abandon us in our times of trouble.
A Grandfather Found His Grandson, Jumping Up And ...
By Manuel Amparo
By Fred W. Parsons, These Times, March 1969.
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It’s like the story told about a grandfather who one time found his grandson, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his lungs. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Gramp, out.”
It was only natural for Grandfather to reach down to lift the little fellow out of his predicament; but as he did, the mother of the child stepped up and said, “No, Johnnie, you are being punished, so you must stay in.”
The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart, but the mother’s firmness in correcting her son for misbehavior must not be lightly taken. Here was a problem of love versus law, but love found a way. The grandfather could not take the youngster out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him.
God did not spare Paul and Silas the suffering and imprisonment, but He did come down into the prison with them.
God did not keep the three Hebrew children out of the fiery furnace, but He went into the furnace with them.
God will not always deliver us from trouble and heartache, but He has promised grace for every situation of life.
He has promised to walk with us through the tribulation, the turbulence, the struggles, the fires.
He has promised not to abandon us in our time of need.
Consider these verses:
31 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. (Luke 12, NLT)
11 For the Lord God is our sun and our
He gives us grace and glory.
The Lord will withhold no good thing
from those who do what is right.
(Psalm 84, NLT)
8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9, NKJV)
10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right
(Isaiah 41, NLT)
6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31, NIV)
38 Yes, I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, 39 nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8, NCV)
These are just a small sampling of God’s promises to be with us through the fires.
So as He said, do not be afraid. Stand for Me, and I will stand for you.
In the heat of the night, the day, or the moment, we have the promise that God will be with us, caring for us, providing for us, and helping us through the fires and flames that surround us.
4. It comes down to this: God is our preserver.
When it is all said and done, God will preserve us, keep us, save us from the fires of destruction.
Start again with verse 26 as we conclude the story:
26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. 27 Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!
28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!” (Daniel 3, NLT)
Our Spiritual Heritage In Missions Traces Back To ...
By Ed Sasnett
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I am reminded of the story of Adoniram Judson who lived from 1788-1850, a Baptist missionary. He was one of the first to bring the Christian message to Burma. When war broke out with England, the Burmese arrested Judson because being light-skinned and English-speaking, he looked and talked like the enemy.
He was force-marched barefoot for eight miles to prison where each night the guards passed a bamboo pole between his heavily shackled legs and hoisted the lower part of his body high off the ground. Blood rushed to his head, preventing sleep and causing fierce cramps in his shoulders and back. Clouds of mosquitoes feasted on the raw flesh of his feet and legs. Treatment like this went on for almost two years, and Judson managed to endure only because his devoted wife brought him food each day and pled with the guards for better treatment.
A few months after his release, Judson’s wife, weakened by smallpox, died of fever, and shortly after that their baby daughter also died. Judson nearly had a breakdown. He would kneel by his wife’s grave for hours each day, regardless of weather. He built a one-room hut in the jungle, morosely dug his own grave in case it might prove necessary, and worked in solitude on a translation of the Bible in the Burmese language. Only a handful of Burmese had shown any interest in the Christian message. Yet he stayed on, 34 years in all, and because of his faithfulness more than 1 million Burmese Christians today trace their spiritual roots to Adoniram Judson. The dictionary he compiled, now nearly 200 years old, remains the official dictionary of Myanmar. (Yancey, Rumors)
Why would someone choose to do that? Why would anyone choose to follow a God that promises hardship? It means purity in a world of lust. It means honesty in a world of getting ahead by cheating. It means sacrifice and putting others first and humbling yourself to apologize for doing wrong.
We choose to follow Christ because hardships are not permanent; they are temporary. Our God defeated death. He has promised to take us to heaven. He has promised to make us like Jesus.
What a promise.
Today we struggle through turbulence in our lives.
Today we suffer through trials and pains.
But, in the end, we have hope.
Hope, because God is our preserver. He will keep us until the day of His return.
What Does Hope Do for Mankind?
By David DeWitt
John Maxwell from Think on These Things
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Hope shines brightest when the hour is darkest.
Hope motivates when discouragement comes.
Hope energizes when the body is tired.
Hope sweetens while bitterness bites.
Hope sings when all melodies are gone.
Hope believes when evidence is eliminated.
Hope listens for answers when no one is talking.
Hope climbs over obstacles when no one is helping.
Hope endures hardship when no on is caring.
Hope smiles confidently when no one is laughing.
Hope reaches for answers when no one is asking.
Hope presses toward victory when no one is encouraging.
Hope dares to give when no one is sharing.
Hope brings the victory when no one is winning.
By Joe Bertone
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Someone once said, “In this life God places us in His oven. In here, it is hot and it hurts. No one likes being in the oven, but when life is over, and the bell dings, God takes us out of the oven and says, ‘Well done . . . good and faithful servant.’”
May that be our hope and encouragement today — that the God of eternity will find us faithful in spite of the fiery furnace we experience each and every day.