Monday, September 26, 2016

What god can rescue you out of my hand?

Daniel was a fast-talker.  He could effortlessly convince kings, Captians of the King's bodyguards, and chief officials to do everything from let him switch to a vegetarian diet to put off an order of execution.  Daniel was smooth.

And if we read the first two chapters in isolation, we might imagine that quick thinking and a silver tongue can get a servant of God out of any bind.  However the third chapter of Daniel quickly puts that idea to rest. 

The story opens with Nebuchadnezzar deciding to erect an enormous golden image.  We aren't told what it is an image of but considering his appalling lack of restraint when someone refused to bow down to it, I lean towards a statue of Nebuchadnezzar, himself.  

Nebuchadnezzar is only one of the villains in this little story.  Among the colleagues of the young exiles are some astrologers who see a chance to get ahead by stabbing them in the back.  They go to Nebuchadnezzar and tattle: "These Jewish officials refuse to bow down to the golden image." 

Enraged, Nebuchadnezzar calls them in.  And if the pattern of the first two stories held true what should happen next is that one of the young men is suddenly inspired to explain the whole thing to the king.  Then the king  would smile and everything go back to normal except maybe Shadrach, Meschah and Abed-nego get a promotion and a raise. 

But we all know that is exactly what did not happen.  Instead when the King realizes that the boys will NOT bow down, he makes the consequences clear, "But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15) 

The young men (no suave reply here) respond with one of the greatest acts of defiance recorded in the Bible, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18).  

Let me paraphrase that for you: "God can SO save us!  And even if He decides not to, we aren't bowing down to that golden image anyway!"  They sound like three third graders defending their dad to a schoolyard bully. And that's not far from the truth.  Nebuchadnezzar had (unbeknownst to him) blasphemed the one God and these three brave Hebrew boys weren't going to stand for it.  

I believe there is a powerful lesson in Daniel's wisdom, respect, diplomacy and discernment.  However, there are situations that Christians can not talk their way out of.  Times when they can't compromise or negotiate.  They simply have to stand tall and have faith.  

And notice that the boys acknowledge the possibility that instead of a miracle they might get martyrdom.  Their faith is not the shallow sort that assumes that God will eventually turn everything to their advantage but the powerful sort that accepts any outcome except the one where they turn their faces from God. 

Our kids face these kinds of situations too.  Although we hope that our children will never be tossed into a fiery furnace, they will have moments when they must claim Jesus in the face of mounting opposition.  When they might be tempted to dodge the problem, neither affirming nor deny their God. When they might be tempted to weigh the consequences against their words and placate rather than defy.  

In this week's devotional encourage your kids to think of real world examples where someone might claim God despite the horrifying consequences.  Be sure to draw their minds to situations that could happen in their school or neighborhood.  As terrifying as ISIS is, there are humiliations and horrors for them much closer to home.  Remind them that this was not the first challenge to their faith that these young men faced (Daniel 1 and 2).  While still school children they had faced down both head official and the captain of the King's bodyguard. No wonder they had the strength to defy the King.  Similarly only by facing their schoolyard detractors can our children some day defeat larger horrors.  A kid who can kindly tell a friend that she shouldn't say, "OMG" will be an adult who is not ashamed of the gospel! 

In those moments, I pray my children and yours can call on the example of Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-nego and fearlessly say, 

"The God I serve IS able to save me from your hand.  But even if He does not, I will NOT deny Him; you should know I'll follow Him no matter the cost."