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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mesa Arch Canyonlands National Park, Utah (Howard Blichfeldt)
Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah
(photo by Howard Blichfeldt)

"But If Not" (Unconditional Faith)

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"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).

Early this morning I stepped outside right after 5:00 AM for my favorite weekly chore of taking the trash and recycle bin out to the road. It was chilly for an August morning, about 50 degrees, with a clear sky filled with a multitude of bright stars. I heard the distinct morning cock-a-doodle-doo from my neighbor Marvin's rooster. I considered the peace and quiet we usually take for granted. We have a busy day but expect it to be routine ending with our customary summer practice of sitting out in our front yard and watching the sunset across the corn field.

A hundred years ago the farmer living up the road from our house would have had a similar experience. (Our property was on a farm field till just over 25 years ago.)  Many aspects to what I experienced wouldn't have changed the last 100 years. However I come in and check the news and see the evidence of our broken world, with access to instant worldwide news unimaginable in 1913. For instance I contrast the peace I experience with the current awful state of affairs in Egypt, especially reading how the small remnant of remaining Christians are painfully struggling. Their morning walk outside, if they dare, is so very, very different than mine.

Today let us
examine a three word phrase l that I feel is one of the great faith proclamations in the Bible. It was uttered by three courageous young men whose story is recorded in the book of Daniel. Their testimony is an extraordinary example of uncompromising allegiance to Almighty God in the face of our relentless enemy.

While in exile they were given the Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In New England I once shared a message about them with several Bible College students and graduates in attendance so I asked a trivia sort of question, "Does anyone know their Hebrew names?" Without hesitation 9 year old Garrison raised his hand and with a knowing smile confidently responded, "Rack, Shak and Bennie." Now if you have children or grandchildren you're probably laughing right now as you might recognize these are their nicknames based on a popular Veggie Tales video. I can understand why a child (or others) might guess these were the Hebrews names!  But in actuality their Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azzariah (Daniel 1:11).

The account of these men of faith is surely one of the greatest stories of deliverance recorded in Scripture. It demonstrates to believers of all ages the incredible power of faith, courage and obedience. They got into serious trouble because they refused to compromise a core commandment of God in bowing down to the 90 foot tall golden image Nebuchadnezzar had set up. The consequence for failing to comply to the king’s command was being thrown into a fiery furnace.

They were brought before the king and given a final opportunity to submit to his edict when today's main Scripture portion was recorded, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

You've likely heard the story many times, pehaps even from childhood Sunday School and know it for the amazing deliverance that took place. But going into it they did not what know what the outcome would be and their resolve of faith was not dependent on the deliverance as they experienced it.

When pressed to comply with the king's edict to bow down to the idol they answered,
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter" Their faith was completely in God and they knew ultimately that it was He Whom they needed to answer. Their training as earnest, faithful Jews clearly stipulated that bowing to an idol was forbidden.

"If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace." Notice the phrase, "our God whom we serve". This probably infuriated Nebuchadnezzer who was accustomed to demanding the service and even worship from his subjects. "Is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace." Indeed God is able to do all things, He is a supernatural God.

But what follows is that three word phrase that powerfully demonstrates their unconditional, unwavering faith, "But if not". Some versions word it, "But even if He does not" That is, even if our God who is able chooses to work in another way, "be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

We know the Bible events of deliverance like what happened in the fiery furnace or later with Daniel in the lion's den. These events are recounted later in the Book of Hebrews in the "Faith Chapter" and specifically alluded to in this portion, "And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection" (Hebrews 12:32-35a). He's summarizing here how God worked in the faithful in providing deliverance of various sorts.

But midway through verse 35 the outcome, at least as it pertains to this earthly life, changes, "and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground" (Hebrews 35b-38).

The Bible also has this record with those such as John the Baptist, Stephen, and James who all died while faithfully serving God, not experiencing deliverance in the same sense that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did.

But no matter the circumstances God is no less God and no less powerful, faithful, good, or merciful. Our narrow, temporal outlook may be "skewed" because we can only view on this side but as we consider God in the eternal realm we realize that He is working for our good, no matter what. As the oft repeated phrase from years ago states, "God is good all the time and all the time God is good."

Today we need to demonstrate an attitude of "But if not" faith, and we know many who are doing so:
  • David, a seminary professor friend dealing with a lengthy, debilitating affliction who surely welcomes God's healing but presses on faithfully although it hasn't come.
  • Ken, a friend who loves his children and grandchildren and regularly prays for their safety and blessing. Nearly two years ago his grandson was killed by an impaired driver. Can  we even begin to understand such things?  But he remains faithful.
  • Barb, a longtime reader with two severely disabled children who has endured great hardship, has surely prayed "if it be Thy will" many times but who nevertheless joyfully plods on.
  • Clarence who faithfully keeps his vows of nearly 60 years as his wife is in the final stages of cancer.
We can think of so many with similar testimonies of overcoming faith. But we also consider those we do not know personally who are enduring persecution for standing true to the Lord.

We want to encourage all our readers to become strengthened by the words of the following song, "Living by Faith":

I care not today what the morrow may bring,
If shadow or sunshine or rain,
The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything,
And all of my worries are vain.

    Living by faith in Jesus above,
    Trusting, confiding in His great love;
    From all harm safe in His sheltering arm,
    I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer: Father, the dynamic story of the three Hebrew men speaks of Your miraculous deliverance for all ages and throughout all generations.  Their unyielding devotion to You is a tremendous model to those of us who call You our Father. It is by testing that we are strengthened and conformed into you likeness. Trials come upon us to produce perseverance, build character, and draw us closer to Jesus. They also enable us to help others in similar situations because of our own personal experience we have a greater sense of how to help and pray for them in their hour of need. We love You Father and want to be found faithful no matter the circumstance. We pray that we will have a "but if not" degree of faith. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"He Is Able"  Video  Maranatha Singers

"Thank You Lord For The Trials That Come My Way"  Video  Not specified

As we were concluding today's message I listened to "Back To The Bible" and heard a part of a message that closely relates to today's topic titled "If There Is a Loving God, Why Is There So Much Suffering? Part 2" You can listen here as well as links to other messages in the series.

Today we will be helping our friend Howard Blichfeldt set up his photo display at the Mount Gretna Outdoor Art Show. Mount Gretna lies in a mountainous area at the very southern tip of Lebanon County. See here for map. (Google) The photo below is from last year as Howard (left in photo) had a lot of folks stop by his display. He became our friend about six years ago through daily encouragement and he permits us to occasionally use his photos on our website. He is an outstanding photographer focusing on nature. See here for his site. If you are in our area and may have interest in the Mount Gretna Outdoor Art Show info is here. Make sure and look up Howard!

Howard Blichfeldt at Mount Gretna Outdoor Art show, PA

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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