From the Well - 10/22/2015

Daniel 3:19-27 (NRSV)
19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, 20 and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. 21 So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics, their trousers, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. 22 Because the king's command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire. 24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, "Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?" They answered the king, "True, O king." 25 He replied, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god." 26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!" So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. 27 And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king's counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.

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The famous explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, is not only remembered for his heroic exploits in Antarctica but also for his courage and moral resolve as he inspired his men in moments of crisis and challenge. A notable example was the time when his ship was caught and crushed by ice more than 1200 miles from any human habitation, 1000 of those miles were across the stormiest and most difficult open waters in the world. Shackleton and his men crossed those waters in three life boats. Once managing to navigate the dangerous waters, they found themselves on the wrong side of the island which they had struggled to reach.

            Shackleton and two of his crew decided to leave the others and seek out help. In order to make their way to civilization, they had to cross a 10,000 foot high mountain range that had never been traversed before. They made three attempts before they were able to make their way to the summit. By the time they arrived, it was late in the day. It would soon turn dark and the men risked certain death in the cold. Abandoning traditional methods of cutting steps with ice axes, Shackleton coiled their rope, all three sat on it, locked arms and legs and like tobogganers they slide down to a safe altitude. They eventually found a whaling station and arranged for the rescue of their friends trapped on the opposite side of the island.

            Writing later about the experience, particularly the treacherous mountain crossing, Shackleton said that he had an overwhelming sense of another presence, the presence of God. The two men who accompanied Shackleton on the mountain crossing confirmed that they felt the same presence.

When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to deny God and compromise their faith, they were blessed with the miracle of God’s presence with them. This story reveals a truth that we all need to hear: Our times of crisis and testing do not so much build character as reveal it. These difficult moments in life often strip us bare and expose whether we actually have faith in God or not. They expose how firm the ridges of our character are and deep our courage goes, how far we are willing to follow Jesus. Times of testing do not so much build character and faith as reveal them.

            We would do well do deepen our faith in God before the crises breaks. We need to face and name our fears before they wash over us. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faithful to God long before they were thrown into the furnace. The walked daily with God and when they were put to the test, they knew they could trust God to be with them no matter what.

Questions for the week

Consider journaling your responses to these questions:

There are many voices in our culture that cry out for our attention, inviting us to compromise our faith. What messages do these voices convey?

When Daniel and his three friends become prisoners of war, they are pressured to change many things (Daniel 1; The Story, 249-250). What concessions are they willing to make and where do they draw the line and say no?

Where is an example of an area where you have said, “I draw the line here and I will not cross it?” What happened when you made a stand and maintained your integrity?

When Daniel heard of King Nebuchadnezzar’s seemingly impossible request (Daniel 2:1-18; The Story, 250-252), he asked his three friends to pray and seek the face of God with him. Why is prayer the right response in this critical moment of Daniel’s story? What is one situation you are facing right now that needs prayer?

Once God answered the prayers of Daniel and his friends, Daniel lifted up an amazing prayer of praise (Daniel 2:20-23; The Story, 252). What do you learn about Daniel’s understanding of God in this prayer and how might this shape the way your pray?

As Daniel explained the King’s dream and its interpretation, he was careful to not take credit but give all the glory to God (Daniel 2:27-30; The Story, 252-253). In what ways can we be tempted to take credit for what God does? How can we give God credit?

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood face-to-face with King Nebuchadnezzar and told him they would not bow down and commit idolatry, even if it cost them their lives. Where does this kind of strength and integrity come from? Tell about a situation where you faced (or are facing) real pressure to compromise biblical truth.

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego ended up in the furnace, they discovered they were not alone (Daniel 3:25; The Story, 256). Describe a furnace time in your life when God showed up in a very personal and powerful way.

Despite Daniel’s struggle of persecution and oppression, what were some of the ways God was working in his life? Why is it so important that we slow down occasionally and take note of how God is working in our lives?

It is in the dark places that light shines most brightly. What are some ways we can be part of our culture and still not compromise? Why is it valuable and even essential for Christians to understand and function within our culture (without crossing the line of compromise) if we are going to bring Jesus’ message and love to this world? Where is one place in your life that God wants his light to shine through you?

Prayer Time

As you take time to pray, here are some ideas to get you started:

·        Lift up the needs and situations of your life and the life of others you know as you face the tough decisions of daily life.

·        Pray for power to stand strong in your faith even when there is pressure to compromise.

·        Thank God that God is with you even in the furnace moments of life.

Between Sessions

Personal Reflection

            Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego boldly declared that they would die before bowing down to an idol. Think about some of the pressure-filled situations in your life and the ways you are tempted to compromise. Ask God to give you a passionate commitment to holiness and a life of integrity. Prepare yourself to stand strong…no matter what you face.

Personal Action

            Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had each other. Though prisoners of war, this small community of faithful friends could band together in prayer and obedience. Make work of building this kind of network in your life. If you have a community like this, be intentional about strengthening it. If you don’t, begin praying for and looking for people of integrity who can become long-term friends and supporters.

Read for Next Week

Read Chapter 19.

Matthew