Sunday, May 13, 2012

Must Not Despair

"Good morning. The first thing I’d like to say is Happy Mother’s Day," Pastor Brad announced. "When I was a child I tried to honor my mother but I didn’t fully appreciate the work involved in being a mother. I also want to thank the men for putting on an excellent breakfast." It was indeed Mother's Day.

1. One more week of the youth selling stock to raise money for CHIC, a life changing youth event. The stockholders dinner is next Sunday at 6:00 pm.
2. Brooke announced that the Smith’s are expecting a baby and we’re having a baby shower June 3.
3. VBS related, Brooke said we can’t cook at the Town Hall, but if you would like to help prepare or serve, see Brooke for details.
4. Leadership council meetings take place on third Tuesday of each month, which is this week.

Darlene played a bright rendition of All Creatures of Our God and King, specially suited for this loveliest of spring days. We proceeded into a time of worship.

As an intro to the giving of tithes and offerings Brad mentioned that the capital campaign committee this past week and that the theme for this campaign is faithfulness. As we prepare for our giving we’re reminded that we have a God who is faithful, who spared nothing on our behalf.

After children 1-4 were dismissed for Children’s Church, Cheryl Borndal read to us from John 15:9-17. Before entering into a time of prayer Brad said, “That text Cheryl just read is one of my favorites. ‘Here’s my command: Love one another.”’Not a suggestion, a command.” This time of prayer and a duet by Brad and Darlene transitioned us to the sermon.

Must Not Despair

Brad began his message with a story about a submarine that sank. On board was a Russian sailor whose life was about to end and he wrote a two word message to his wife: “Mustn’t despair.”

In the last moments of life, all the scaffolding of our life gets stripped away. So what does your life consist of? If the final moment were here right now for you, what would you write as your last words?

The message today would be on Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three young men with hearts full of hopes and dreams. And they, too, faced their last moments as they were about to be thrown into a fiery furnace because they would not compromise their faith.

Often the last message is a message of regret. Or a wish that we could stay around.

If these three men would just bend the knee to the king’s god, and compromise their faith they would not be in this spot. It was a life and death decision and they chose death. “The God we serve will is able to deliver us but even if He does not we will not serve your gods.“ 

The king was furious. First he tried to woo them, but when unable to persuade them he simply lost it and ordered that the intensity of the fire in the furnace be increased sevenfold.

To deliberately burn someone is one of the most inhuman ways to treat a person. Yet this was the fate these men faced voluntarily.

In verse 21 the clothes are described and would be mentioned again. The furnace was so hot that the flames even killed the men throwing the three young men into the furnace.

The writer wants us to understand that Nebuchadnezzar’s fury was so great he doesn’t even notice that his own men have been killed  in the act of throwing Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego into the fire.

Imagine this scene. Real people, carried to the furnace, with a mix of fear and faith… and expectation of suffering, and instead they end up unbound, walking around inside the fire.

In verse 24 Nebuchadnezzar leaps to his feet, shocked… because they threw three men into the fire, and he sees a fourth man in the fire with these three men. Thought the Bible never says explicitly, we know who it is. The world’s greatest small group meeting. Can you imagine what they said to each other. Perhaps Jesus told them how proud He was of them because they were faithful to the end. Who would have thought it that the names of these three men would still be talked about thousands of years later?

And I wonder what they said to the fourth man. Think about it, the thing that seemed like it would be the end of their lives became the greatest experience of their lives, the place where they met God.

Sometimes God rescues us before the furnace, but sometimes God chooses to simply meet us in the furnace. Jesus says, “I will meet you in the furnace. It’s going to look dark and scary, but don’t worry. I will be there if you are faithful.”

Picture the look on the faces of the governors and prefects. When the three men came back out, the hair on their head was not singed, their robes were not scorched. Suddenly, the king is amazed, and congratulates these men for being willing to give up their lives for their own faith. He shows them respect and lifts them up to new responsibilities
I wonder what the rest of their lives looked like. I wonder if when they were old whether they would get together and talk about that experience where they spent a few moments in the presence of the living God. Ironically, the furnace that looked like death turned out to be the safest place they could be.

I think today’s world is challenging because we so want a comfortable existence. Our prayer too often is for furnace avoidance. Paul later wrote about his thorn in the flesh, and three times prayed for its removal, but God said, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

Imagine this, whatever furnace you’re in…. picture God having a calendar with a note that said “10:00 a.m., meet Meshach, Shadrach and Abendigo in the furnace.”

Consider this… Instead of asking God for less heat, my prayer is that we would ask, “God, give me an opportunity to show my devotion to You.”

Think about how we get rattled over the littlest things. I’m telling you, I think God is calling us to a new level of relationship. Maybe God’s plan is to meet you in the furnace. Maybe we should not be praying for deliverance from the furnace. Following Christ has never been about having an easier life.

In closing Brad returned us to the last words of the sailor at the beginning of this message: "Mustn’t despair. God is here. Friends, this is our day. Let’s follow Christ."

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