Another in the Fire

One of my favorite songs at the moment is Hillsong United’s Another in the Fire. Lately, I feel that I am under attack for my beliefs. I feel that I am under fire. My beliefs are being challenged. Indeed, it feels as though Christianity is under attack in this country. The words in Hillsong’s song have been speaking to me:

There’s a grace when the heart is under fire
Another way when the walls are closing in
And when I look at the space between
Where I used to be and this reckoning
I know I will never be alone
There was another in the fire
Standing next to me
There was another in the waters
Holding back the seas
And should I ever need reminding
Of how I’ve been set free

There is a cross that bears the burden
Where another died for me.

Today, I learned the connection between this song and the book of Daniel. In chapter 3, we learn that King Nebuchadnezzar required everyone to bow down and worship a golden statute he had made. He decreed that “Whoever does not fall down and worship shall be instantly cast into a white-hot furnace.” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down and worship this false god. And when they were questioned, they responded:

“If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, you should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”

Daniel 3:17-18

As a result, they were thrown into the fire. The faith and the strength that they showed when truly under fire in inspiring. While in the midst of the fire, these three responded by praising and worshipping God amidst the fire (and — spoiler alert — an angel of the Lord saved them from the flames so that not even the smell of smoke touched them). Their prayer is a powerful one and a good reminder in these days when we are under attack:

“Blessed are you, and praiseworthy, O Lord, the God of our ancestors, and glorious forever is your name. For you are just in all you have done; all your deeds are faultless, all your ways right, and all your judgments proper. You have executed proper judgments in all that you have brought upon us and upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our ancestors. By a proper judgment you have done all this because of our sins; For we have sinned and transgressed by departing from you, and we have done every kind of evil. Your commandments we have not heeded or observed, nor have we done as you ordered us for our good. Therefore all you have brought upon us, all you have done to us, you have done by a proper judgment. You have handed us over to our enemies, lawless and hateful rebels; to an unjust king, the worst in all the world. Now we cannot open our mouths; shame and reproach have come upon us, your servants, who revere you. For your name’s sake, do not deliver us up forever, or make void your covenant. Do not take away your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham, your beloved, Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one, To whom you promised to multiply their offspring like the stars of heaven, or the sand on the shore of the sea. For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation, brought low everywhere in the world this day because of our sins. We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you. But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bulls, or tens of thousands of fat lambs, So let our sacrifice be in your presence today and find favor before you; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame. And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and we seek your face. Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. Deliver us in accord with your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord: Let all those be put to shame who inflict evils on your servants; Let them be shamed and powerless, and their strength broken; Let them know that you alone are the Lord God, glorious over the whole world.”

Daniel 3:26-45

As I read this this morning, I saw so many similarities with today. We have departed from God as a country. We have done every kind of evil. We have removed God from almost everything. We attack those who stand against abortion. We worship lust over love. We riot instead of talk. We blame instead of seek to understand. We fear because we have no faith. We attack those whose religious beliefs preclude them from receiving a vaccine. We are called to worship a president, a vaccine, sex, athletes, media personalities…. everything but God. We cannot open our mouths. Those who speak out are ostracized. Shame and reproach come upon us. We have no prince, prophet or leader. Even our church leaders are cowering to political pressure. Our church gatherings have been reduced to zoom. WE ARE UNDER FIRE. God is being closed out of our lives. The fire is as hot and as evil as the fire that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into. We do not have the power. What can we do? Bow down to the false gods around us? NO! “But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received.” For those who trust in the Lord cannot be put to shame. As Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did — we must follow God with our whole heart. God is with us. We have to resist the temptation to bow to all that is around us, all that asks us to turn away from God. As the words in the song say: “There is a grace when our heart is under fire. [There is] another way when the walls are closing in” — our way is to turn and follow God with our whole heart… regardless of what the kings around us say.

Lord, may I be as strong as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. May I not falter and not bow to the gold statutes around me. I know you are with me. I know you alone can set me free. My heart is humble and contrite. I seek your mercy for my failings. You alone are my God. Deliver us in accord with your wonders. Let all those be put to shame who inflict evils on your servants; Let them be shamed and powerless, and their strength broken; Let them know that you alone are the Lord God, glorious over the whole world.

Janet’s Joy

Today, I went to a funeral service for Janet, the mother of a friend and a faithful servant to God.  I was lucky enough to meet Janet and to speak with her on a few occasions.   On one such occasion she shared her love of God with me and she shared this verse:

Yet even now—oracle of the LORD—return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning.  Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God, For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment.

Joel 2:12-13

She shared this with me when I was questioning whether God was the God of the Old Testament (who often seems angry and maybe even mean) or the God of the New Testament (who seems to be all about love).  Janet cited this verse to assure me that God was the same throughout time — all about love.

Return to me with your whole heart, He tells us.  No matter what we have done.  No matter where we are.  God invites us to return to Him.  He tells us to rend our hearts, not our garments and return to Him.    Sometimes our hearts and minds are fixed on something other than God.  Rend your heart, fast, weep, mourn and return to God.  I think sometimes we are afraid to make the change necessary to return our hearts to God.   It needs to be a conscious decision.  We need to fast and cleanse our body, weep and cleanse our inner spirit, mourn and say goodbye to something in our life.  We change our heart, change our life and follow God.  And the good part is…  He will take us back.  He is gracious and merciful.  He is slow to anger.  Look around at the world.  He has lots to be angry with.  But He still loves us, all of us!  He is abounding in steadfast love.  That is my favorite part.  Abounding in steadfast love.  God is love (Old Testament or New Testament — He is love).

And He is constantly calling us to Him.

Janet’s body is now returning to God, but I believe her heart, her whole heart, has long been with God.

God,

Thank you for your abounding and steadfast love.  Show me how to share the same with others.  I am sorry for the times I turn away.  Help me to rend my heart.  Help me to return to you whenever I turn away.

(And God, thank you for Janet.  No matter her struggle she remained steadfast in you.  Welcome her into your kingdom.  We will miss her here, but know that she is finding everlasting joy in you.)

Turn to God, Seek Help, Confess

Tonight the Gideon bible in my hotel room opened to Daniel.  I had to pull up the passage on the computer though because there were too many “thou’s” and “Ye’s” in the hotel version.

I turned to the Lord God, to seek help, in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.  I prayed to the LORD, my God, and confessed, “Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, you who keep your covenant and show mercy toward those who love you and keep your commandments and your precepts!  We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we have rebelled and turned from your commandments and your laws.

Daniel 9:3-5

I  could, and probably should, say these words everyday.  Ah Lord, great and awesome God, you who keep your covenant and show mercy toward those who love you and keep your commandments and your precepts,  I have sinned.  I have been wicked and done evil.  I have rebelled and turned from your commandments and your laws.  Have mercy on me.

In the Bible, God responds to Daniel’s prayers:

But then a hand touched me, raising me to my hands and knees.  “Daniel, beloved,” he said to me, “understand the words which I am speaking to you; stand up, for my mission now is to you.” When he said this to me, I stood up trembling.  “Do not fear, Daniel,” he continued; “from the first day you made up your mind to acquire understanding and humble yourself before God, your prayer was heard.

Daniel 10:10-12

Amidst the Thou’s and the Ye’s, the Bible provides simple instructions:

Turn to God

Seek help

Confess

Humble yourself before God

And the Bible provides hope and comfort:

Do not fear.

Your prayer was heard.

Ah Lord, great and awesome God, you who keep your covenant and show mercy toward those who love you and keep your commandments and your precepts,  I have sinned.  I have been wicked and done evil.  I have rebelled and turned from your commandments and your laws.  Have mercy on me.