Thursday, September 19, 2013

Even if He does not...

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” {Daniel 3:16-18}

This past Sunday, we studied the beginning of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into the blazing furnace.  As I reflected on this story prior to the sermon, the overriding theme from my memory that stood out to me was, "Yay! God did it!  Stupid Nebuchadnezzar threw them into a fire and they escaped, without injury- or even the smell of smoke.  Isn't it cool how God shows up in those circumstances?"

But this past Sunday, we didn't get that far.

This past Sunday, we stopped before the three amigos were thrown into the furnace. 

In case you don't know the background of the story, King Nebuchadnezzar created golden idols that he wanted everyone in his kingdom to worship "at the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe, and all kinds of music".  But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego loved God and refused to worship Nebby's idols.  The consequence for such disobedience was clearly described upfront- those who refused to bow would be thrown into a blazing furnace.  So picture a huge crowd of people, bowing and worshiping the idols, yet here stand these three men.  They refuse to bow.  And so, they face the consequence... the furnace.

Just before they are to be thrown in, Nebuchadnezzar gives them another opportunity to bow.  I mean, maybe they misunderstood or didn't take the cue from the multitudes.  But, no thanks, they say.  We won't bow.

Can you imagine what must be going through their minds?  They know they're doing the right thing, refusing to worship idols, but... they're human.  It's going to hurt to be burned alive.  Even if it's for God, and it's right, it's not going to be pleasant to watch your skin melt off.

Yet, they tell Nebuchadnezzar they won't bow.  What's more, they tell him that they don't even need to defend themselves to him because their God is able to deliver them from the fire.  And even if He does not, nothing changes.  They still won't bow.  They will still follow Him.

Even if He does not.

He is able, but that is no guarantee.  What if He doesn't want to?  What if His plans are different?  What if His glory is better achieved by not delivering us from our circumstances?  What if His story is better played out in our struggles than our victory?

What then?

Will I still love Him?  Will I still serve Him?  Will I still trust that His words are true?  Will I still believe that He. is. good.?

You see, I am in a Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego place right now.  I have been trusting, believing, and waiting for God to answer a prayer for three and a half long years.  I know that He wants me to want Him more than I want His provision for my request.  And most days, I live there.  

But what if He never comes through?  

Yes, He is able.  

And yet, I might never "get what I want" from Him.

What then?  

After much wrestling and many tears, I have come to this conclusion:

God is able to answer my every prayer and heart's deepest longings, but even if He doesn't, I will still love Him, trust Him, and believe that He is good.

No matter what.

As I struggled through this, I came across this passage from a book I read a little over a year ago.  I think it speaks to this concept...

I’m not kidding when I say the ‘mess’ of American Christianity.  Prosperity teaching, this moralistic deism, business deal theology has soaked into the very fabric of Christianity somehow.  And... people believe that when bad things happen to them, that God is not keeping His end of the bargain.  That He is betraying them, screwing them over.  This Americanized God wants everyone to be wealthy, happy, prosperous, and well-tanned, and if you’ll just be good, then he’ll keep anything bad from happening to you.  He will make your business prosper.  Your kids will be healthy and cool and successful.  You’ll have designer clothes.  Everything will be comfortable and nice and peachy, your promised land will eventually come.  

But what if your promised land- whatever you think that means- doesn’t come?  What if your kids get sick?  What if you have a nightmare in your past that haunts you?  What if you lose your job?  What if your wife dies of cancer and all of the ‘promises’ come crashing around you?  What happens to you then?

I’ll tell you what happens- you get angry.  You get really bitter deep down.  You feel like you’ve been betrayed.  Like God hasn’t kept His end of the bargain.  That He’s a liar.  Maybe you walk away from your faith.  You didn’t get what you wanted- what you thought you deserved.  So God can’t be trusted, and you’re out.

But what if I told you God never said those things?  That there never was a business deal that would make your life perfect here on earth?  That, in fact, God says that things are going to be hard- really hard.  That there is going to be pain, hardship, suffering, death and sickness and loss.  That this is a desperately broken world because of sin.  That He has promised to restore all things, to wipe sin and death and tears from the world and create a new heaven and earth for those reconciled to Him.  But that time is not here yet! Heaven will never be fully on earth because this is still a busted, sinful place.

There is no quicker way to become angry and bitter than believing things about God that He has never said about Himself.  And what’s worse, when people do this, they are treating God like a genie in a bottle.  Three wishes and He gives you what you want.  It’s essentially turning God into a product.  The cosmic vending machine of the American dream.  A means to an end, a measly errand boy to fetch what you really want.

But He is not a personal magic genie to make you rich and successful.  He is not your rabbit’s foot or your good luck charm or the next product to get what you want in life.  He is God, and you’ve been taught to treat Him like a butler!  A self-help product to get you a better marriage, a better financial portfolio, or a more prosperous life.

And here is the saddest part:  not only are people trusting in lies that will leave them bitter and angry- they are looking right past the real thing to the fool’s gold.  They are missing the truth- You get God!  Don’t you see?  You get Him!  He is the promised land!  He is the reward!  He is the prize!  The giver that people prostitute is the gift!  You get Him... you get Him to be there with you when bad things happen.  You get His peace when you lose your job or someone gets really sick.  You get His presence- His presence that tells you no matter how bad things are, that He is there, that He knows, that He’s got you.  You get to hear Him say that He hates these effects of sin as much as you do, and that He is making all things new.  God offers you something better than that pipe dream- He offers you Himself.  His presence through everything.  There is no promised land without God- you would have every good thing that exists, but you’d still be miserable without Him.  

In the cross, God has proven once and for all that He is good and that He is for your good.  No circumstance of life can ever change that.  God’s goodness is not dependent on your circumstances, and faithfulness does not magically guarantee external blessings or an easy, comfortable life.  It may very well bring hardship and persecution- something the American church knows nothing about. Well-meaning, everyday people... are being misled by these false beliefs.  It’s an epidemic.  An epidemic.  The theology of suffering in most of American Christianity is pretty pathetic.

- Brandon Clements, Every Bush is Burning

1 comment:

  1. Hi Melinda! I'm Heather and I have a question about your blog! Please email me at Lifesabanquet1(at)gmail(dot)com :-)