Level Up

My sister and I are pale. We don’t tan. She’s a redhead and we’ve discovered that not only do we just burn, but we also are allergic to certain sunscreens. The last spray I used during a Thanksgiving trip to the beach caused my legs to break out and look like someone splattered red paint dots on me.

2005

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As I was reading in Daniel today, I came across a detail from the events of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that reminded me of a different type of burning…when the men who took them to the fiery furnace were burned up just taking them to the furnace entrance.

These three young men were Jews who had been captured by Babylon when Jerusalem was besieged.  They came to be in the service of King Nebuchadnezzar and were commanded to worship the idols and false gods, as ordered by the king.

When it was reported that they wouldn’t comply, Daniel, chapter 3, says:

Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king.

Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?

At the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. 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?”

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.

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.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated.

He commanded certain valiant warriors who were in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in order to cast them into the furnace of blazing fire.

Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. For this reason, because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up.

Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.”

He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!”

Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!” Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the midst of the fire.

Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.

Can you imagine having the courage to walk into a furnace so hot, that the men who took you to the entry burned up before your eyes?

Can you imagine trusting God so much to say…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.”

What if healing didn’t come when we prayed so hard for it? What if protection didn’t come when you were faithful to ask for it?

What if life fell apart and left you on your knees, sobbing, with the feeling there was no hope left in the world?

Would we still say, “Lord, I trust You. Even if it takes my life, or the life of someone I love, I trust You. This life is but a vapor and I know eternity should be my focus?”

The house where I lived with my grandparents burned to the ground when I was in 8th grade. It was so traumatic that I’ve been afraid of house fires ever since.

When my girls were babies, I had two plastic tubs with my most cherished mementos, thinking in the case of a house fire, I could possible grab those and not lose every photo and keepsake to the flames.

That house where we lived was one I built during my first marriage in 1998 – right in front of my grandparents’ house. After my divorce, I left that place and my grandmother rented it to someone. One night, she called me and said, “Keysha, your house is on fire.”

It took me a minute to look around and realize she wasn’t referring to where I was – but the house in front of hers. Even as I type this, the irony of that event intrigues me. See, every time I went to my childhood home where all of my precious memories live, I had to look on that hill and see the house built from a broken marriage…pain and agony that left me broken and angry at the Lord. I cursed Him and abandoned my faith and the church.

My logic was…I’ve been in church my whole life, followed the Lord all 27 years (or so I thought), and what good did it get me?

Seriously.

Let me tell you about mercy.

During my rebellion against the Lord, I had been provided with a garden home, rent free. I received a promotional work that gave me a $10,000 raise in my annual salary. And, my boss, who got me the promotion, gave me an outstanding evaluation with a bonus before I left his department.

What? Do you know how I felt when I finally realized how God had provided for me even as I shouted at the sky against Him?

What about when I realized that I didn’t actually have a relationship with Christ, but He saved me, provided for me, protected my children… anyway?

That moment stands still in my mind, because when I faced a fiery furnace, I did not have the faith and courage to say, “Even if He does not.”

I swore to myself I’d never make that mistake again. I would not betray my Savior, even unto death.

Over the last 15 years, I have faced more blazing doorways. Sadly, there were moments when I was again angry and argued with the Lord, but not like before.

His Spirit quickly convicts me. Even though I have to sometimes force myself to remember that promise I made from 2003, my brokenness has never snapped me in half like it did before I was made new in Christ.

However, the enemy can step up his ways of deception, altering tactics to make us fall into a deeper pit. I like to compare this to the levels of Super Mario Brothers.

Sometimes, we have to repeat a level over and over to learn where the one-ups are, the secret tunnels and the trap doors. We have to develop the skills and strategy in order to defeat the dungeon monster and rescue the princess. No one goes directly from level 1 to level 8 without some do-overs, delays and detours.

Growing in faith and maturity takes time. It takes experience. It takes failures. It takes mountaintop and valley journeys.

This is why….this… when the Bible says to consider it all joy when trials and tribulations come your way.

Not IF they come your way, but WHEN. Those challenges are necessary to help you gain the wisdom needed for the next level. There is no internet cheat to tell us how to skip through the levels unharmed.

Like pruning of the vine, the pain and grafting we experience are only to make us more fruitful…cutting away the dead branches and allowing us to grow and flourish for His kingdom.

Sometimes it a fire to bring forth beauty from ashes.