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large fire but if not

Courage: But if not

large fire but if not

Christians have questions. Sometimes we even question God. It would be nice if we all went around singing, “It is well with my soul,” but we don’t and probably never will in this life. We face profound challenges almost daily and we struggle to understand why we are facing them. Problems are for others, not for me. Why is this happening to me? Why did she die; she was so good?” Most of the time life doesn’t make sense to us. Do you agree? Have you been there? Did you find the courage you needed?

Three devout men found themselves facing an impossible choice. They could serve God or obey the king. At first, it seems an easy choice – a no-brainer. Except, the king would kill you in a most gruesome way if you did not obey. Many would crumble in the face of such a dilemma. But these three did not.

Men of Unbelievable Courage

The king commanded all to bow to an idol image he built. Failure to do so meant certain death. Three men said no! 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)

I’ve read this story since I was a child. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego were Bible school heroes because they went into the fiery furnace and survived. They didn’t even smell like smoke! But lately, their hero status has increased because of three words, “but if not.”

These three servants of God stood before Nebuchadnezzar and staunchly proclaimed their confidence in the God of heaven. Then, after the king confronted them and threatened them with death by fire, they said: “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.” They were confident in God’s ability to protect them from the fire and in his ability to defeat the king’s plans. Maybe they recalled Solomon’s proverb: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will (Proverbs 21:1). God’s mighty victory over Pharaoh, generations before, could have given them strength too.

But If Not

Like courageous Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we know that God can deliver us from troubles small and great. Our problem is that we assume God will always act the way we think he should! That’s the power of their next statement to Nebuchadnezzar. “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.” (vs. 18). “BUT IF NOT.”

If God has a different plan, we’re ok with that too. The three did not doubt God’s ability to save them. Instead, they doubted their understanding of the Lord’s marvelous plans. The Lord said it this way in Isaiah 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. Oh, how we wish God would answer our prayers our way!

You know how this story ends. Nebuchadnezzar did not change his mind. The soldiers threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the deadly fire. It was then that something truly stupendous happened. The king looked into the fire saw an angel protecting the men! “Come out, come here,” he ordered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The fire did not singe their hair. God had a plan all along! By doing things God’s way, the Lord provided a timeless story of trust and faith. Plus, Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful ruler of his day, was humbled by God’s show of power.

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.”

Daniel 3:28

God’s people gained a great victory that day, for the king issued a decree that protected the Hebrews from any assault on their worship. As for our three heroes, they were promoted to higher positions in Babylon.

God Cares for You Too

God will deliver us, but if not, the end result will always be better. May we live with Habakkuk’s courageous attitude:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

Habakkuk 3:17, 18

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It’s So Hard

Nobody ever said righteousness was easy. No one ever claimed holiness was a breeze. The pursuit of godliness is probably the hardest thing you will ever attempt. What’s the old saying, “If it were easy, everyone would do it?”

Abraham struggled with honesty, as did his son, Isaac.

Noah got drunk.

David cheated with another man’s wife and then had him killed.

Peter was two-faced, and Paul was the foremost sinner.

It’s hard to do right. You may look at those guys and think, “Hey! I’m better than them!” Maybe. In some ways. But it’s not about us vs. them. It’s about Jesus and how well we mirror his image. That’s the idea, right? We are to be like him. Look at 1st Peter 1:15. Peter says, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.‘”

Even preachers struggle. It’s nice to preach about love, hope, heaven, and glory, all sound biblical topics. It’s much harder to talk about sin, repentance, and hell, but those are biblical too and must be a part of any preacher’s repertoire. Why? Because that’s part of living godly. because it’s as much of God’s word as the easy stuff.

Have you ever repaired or installed drywall or sheetrock? Turn out the overhead light and shine a lamp at a sharp angle onto the wall. The slanted light will reveal every flaw in your work. That’s like the Bible. Scripture makes us uncomfortable because it reveals our failings and shortcomings. It is a bright light on our imperfect lives.

“Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.”

Luke 12:3

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Psalm 119:105

“For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life”

Proverbs 6:23

On the other hand, the world calls gently to us, demanding nothing now but taking souls in the life to come. As Jesus said, Satan “is a liar” (John 8:44). His promises are sweet and pleasing to our ears. He tenderly convinces us that we are free to do as we please. His bite comes at the end, and we lose our souls eternally.

Consider Eve. Satan lied to her in Genesis 3:4. Look what happened.

Don’t forget. We are not alone in our pursuit of righteousness and holiness. Jesus walks with us daily – if we let him – and strengthens us in our battles. His power works in us to purify, sanctify, and consecrate us to his service (Philippians 1:6, 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 13:21).

No warrior ever walks alone. He is strengthened by training of those before, the memories of those who have fallen, and the spirit of his comrades. You are not alone. Jesus trains you through his word, has been here before, and walks alongside you today.

My purpose is to tell you not to give up. Do not surrender to your sinful desires. Reject the whispers of failure and inadequacy. Let those times of greatest temptation become times of greatest prayer and humility. Life is so hard. Lean on Jesus!

When the Bottom Falls Out

“No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it. ” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NET Bible)

1 Corinthians 10:13, NET Bible

You’ve either been  there, or you are heading there. You might be there right now. “There” is that place where all your troubles are piling on you at once. Life pressure is so intense that you don’t want to get out of bed. Your day is a blur. You fear to hear the phone ring because it might be more bad news. You think that it cannot get any worse – except it can.

Honestly, it may seem that God is distant. Your fervent prayers are seemingly met with cold silence from on high. Like David, you cry, “Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning” (Psalm 5:1). Still, it seems that nothing comes from God. You want to give up.

You are in the moment of God’s greatest attention and care. Don’t surrender! Our Lord is carefully watching your day and ensuring that you are not overwhelmed by the affairs of this life. He, like a mother guarding her young, is standing between you and the world. Inspiration says that God “will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The temptation to surrender is powerful but limited. You will endure this darkness.

Things were so bad for Job that his wife urged him to call it quits (Job 2:9). He clung to God and remembered all the good that had come from him. Do the same. Remember God’s blessings.

Jesus was alone in the depths of Gethsemane when he cried to God for deliverance. He was deserted by his friends as he was beaten and humiliated in the High Priest’s courtyard. He hung naked and bleeding, having been deserted by most. His answer was to cry out to God. Remember to pray as you have never prayed before.

Paul was repeatedly beaten as he preached the Gospel to the lost. He did not stop. He arose and continue preaching. When Agabus told him of his impending arrest in Jerusalem, he would not be stopped from going. The Lord had work for him, and he would not be dissuaded (Acts 20:18-24; 21:10-14). Remember to focus on the Lord and do not take your eyes off of him.

The apostle reasons that trouble will come often in this life, but because of Jesus and his resurrection, we have confidence in something better ( 1 Corinthians 15:19,20). Our struggles today are but a pothole on the road to eternal life (Romans 8:18). Remember the goal that is set before you.

We do not suggest that your struggles are small or insignificant. They are not. We only want to remind you there is a Lord in heaven who sees and cares. He is protecting you even now as you struggle through the demands of the day. He is also preparing a place of eternal rest where you will be set free from all cares. It is essential  that you cling to your savior in these troublesome times. You must fight the temptation to raise the white flag of failure. He will bring you through whatever troubles you face. Throw your troubles to him because he cares what happens (1 Peter 5:7).

Baggage: Why We Struggle

The_Royal_baggage_-_geograph.org.uk_-_914627Solomon said the whole duty of man was to fear God and keep his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13).  Paul wrote that to know Jesus was the most important thing in his life (Philippians 3:8).  We also know that God does not create confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) and that his word is truth (John 17:17). So why is it so hard to live the righteous life?

I would suggest that we struggle so because we have not yet fully surrendered to Christ. We’ve given him the nod but have yet to bow the knee.

The Problem With Our Reality

We may tend to discount some Bible teachings because they do not fit in with our view of how things are. For example, some people do not believe in eternal condemnation because it seems so harsh. Some go so far as to reject God because they cannot accept the idea of anything or anyone outside of our natural realm. Ideas about God and from God are ignored because they do not fit neatly within what we know or think we know.

Our struggle is to appreciate and accept the shallowness of our own knowledge. Job cries to God seeking some reason for his suffering. Do you realize that God never gave him an answer? He never told Job why he suffered. Instead, God put his own divine knowledge on display and told Job to answer questions God alone could answer. In Job’s humility he could only say “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3).

Perhaps the greatest error we make is to assume that all things can be known. They cannot. Some things belong only to God (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Isaiah may have said it best when he wrote, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). Truly, our reality is limited.

The Problem With Our Wisdom

It is also probable that we struggle to know God because we allow our own human wisdom to replace the divine wisdom that comes from God. The Bible no longer reflects what God says but what we think it should say. We then develop our own way of living and worshipping and presume God will be pleased.

When reasoning with the brethren in Corinth Paul contrasted the difference between God’s wisdom and that of man. His example is the cross of Christ which seems foolish to the world but precious to believers. We must not view life as the worldly do. Our perspective is anchored in God’s wisdom. We accept that “…the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25) and live accordingly.

Leaving the wisdom of the earthly and trusting in the wisdom of the divine is crucial to a faithful life. Only then can we say with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways” (Romans 11:33)!

When our thoughts are worldly our actions will be worldly. When we think like those around us we will live like them. The Christian replaces his own wisdom with that of the Creator and draws closer to him daily.

To bow the knee to Christ means to surrender all and that includes my own intellect and wisdom. It is no longer what I think or what I believe but what God plainly reveals to us. No human thought approaches the wisdom of God. In moments when we do not fully understand and when confusion reigns, we stand upon our faith that is in Jesus Christ.

Trust his wisdom and despise your own.

Bryant Evans may be reached at bryant at bryantevans.com. You can follow Bryant on Twitter @jbevans.
Image: Stanely Howe via commons.wikipedia.org. Image copyright CC BY-SA 2.0.



Where Is God?

Some days are harder than others. Some days Jesus seems so far away. Everyday life intrudes on faith and makes it seem impossible to draw near to God. Some are so busy with jobs and careers they cannot seem to find a few moments with the Lord. It’s not that they do not want  to be with Him, it is just that they cannot find the time. Others have time but have lost the desire. What’s happening and how can it be fixed?

Let’s keep in mind that God is not far from us. The Lord is near to all who call on him in truth, writes the psalmist (Psalm 145:18). He is a God that is near at hand (Jeremiah 23:23-24). So even on days when the world crashes through, God is not far. It may seem like he is far away but it’s really the busyness of the day that clouds our view.

Job thought God had forsaken him. His entire world crashed down upon him in a matter of hours. He lost his business, his belongings and even his children. Job was struggling. He asked, “Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire?” He complained more, “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest but trouble comes” (Job 3:11, 26). For Job, the man of patience, life had descended into swirling vat of pain and sorry.

What Job did not realize, and what we forget, is that God was never far. The Almighty was watching every move Satan made against Job. He heard every cry, every moan, from Job’s mouth. The Lord knew the grand outcome, he knew Job was growing and knew that he would remain faithful. The Lord knew Job’s struggles were a necessary part of his own divine plan. But still, Job was struggling.

It is important for us to see the Job story as a lesson for us. Just as Job did not know what was ahead, just as the days looked perpetually dark, God was near. Although Job, and we, think we are alone, we are not. Struggles are a part of the way of all men. For the faithful however, God is close at hand. But where  is he? How do we find him?

Eliphaz, a friend of Job’s, was roundly rebuked by God for his advice he gave Job during his struggles. But there was one thing Eliphaz said that was wise. In the midst of Job’ s struggles, Eliphaz said this: “As for  me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause” (Job 5:8). This is a good first step in rediscovering the Lord of our heart. Pray, pray, pray. Don’t stop praying until you find that sweet spot before the Lord. Place your fears and your weaknesses before  him (1 Peter 5:7) and call on him for help.

When a child is born, mom and dad will carefully inspect every inch of their newborn. They will count fingers and toes, look for birthmarks and take note of every characteristic of the precious infant. God does likewise. But in his all-knowing power he even counts the hairs of our head (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7). You are loved beyond belief! The Father and Son want to be near and desire to be your friend. Where is he? He is near, only a prayer away.


It can be painful to reach out to someone caught up in sin. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, they reject us and our plea for Christ. It’s doubly hurtful when that person is a dear family member; maybe a son or daughter who has gone astray draws even further away after our pleadings. Their rejection causes us to plead even more earnestly and they draw even further away. It becomes a cycle of encouragement and rejection.

A preacher once reminded me that not even Jesus saved all those he reached out to. Scores walked away from Jesus as soon as his divine commands become too hard or too controversial (John 6:66). One of his chosen ones, Judas, betrayed him to his enemies (John 18:1-11). The Lord himself says most will be lost (Matthew 7:13-14). It is not what people say but what they do that matters (Matthew 7:21-23) and even those who invoke the name of Jesus may not be true followers. If a man rejects Jesus we can be assured that some (many) will reject our overtures.

The frustration of reaching out only to seemingly push people away is not limited to mankind.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They  sacrificed to the Baals  and they  burned incense to images.” (Hosea 11:1-2 NIV).

“My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the most high, he shall not raise them up at all” (Hosea 11:7).

Those are God’s words and reflect how he felt about Israel’s rejection.  I see a couple of lessons here and you may see others. First, God didn’t give up on them. Hear his tender words just a few verses later.

“How can I give you up, Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, Israel?  How can I treat you like Admah?          How can I make you like Zeboiim?  My heart is changed within me;  all my compassion is aroused.  I will not carry out my fierce anger,  nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.  For I am God, and not man—  the Holy One among you.  I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11:8-9 NIV).

Although Israel had rejected him and his encouragements, he would not give up on them. He loved them immensely and always sought their redemption.

We mustn’t give up on people. Our hearts ache when children reject the faith that saves. We are pained when friends persist in unrighteousness. But let us always work to bring them home (Galatians 6:1).

A second lesson is harder to accept. God allows people to make their own choices and decisions. In the case of Israel, God blessed them, he punished them, he sent prophets and he pleaded with them. Yet God did not remove their own ability to choose.

His choice persists from Eden. There God allowed Adam and Eve to either obey or reject him (Genesis 2:16-17). Joshua called upon Israel to choose the Lord (Joshua 24:1-15). Today, people have similar choices. No one is forced to follow. No one is compelled to serve.

While God surrounds all of us with magnificent blessings he always leaves the decision to us. It’s hard to watch a loved one choose a life of sin. But we must allow them the same choices God allows. We never give up and we always plant good seed. But ultimately each makes his own decision. It gives me some strength to know that even our heavenly father knows the pain of rejection.

God the Remodeler

Have you ever remodeled a home or office? It’s a mess. We’re doing some remodeling at the Eastern Shore church at the moment. Before anything new can be built the old stuff has to be torn away. Old ceiling, cabinets, walls, flooring; it all has to be torn down before the new materials can be added.  It’s a messy process but needed.

The same happens to the Christian. The old ways have to be destroyed before the regeneration (remodeling) can begin. God’s prophet Hosea said it this way:

“Come let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1).

We don’t normally think of God as one who destroys or tears down. We don’t think the Lord would strike us down. But Hosea says otherwise and other Scriptures support the idea.

In Romans 6:6 Paul says “our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing…” Our destruction comes before our reconstruction. In Ephesians 4:20-24 the apostle says we were taught to “put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” Again, destroy the old so we can be renewed.

One more: “Do not lie to one another seeing you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10). Clean out the old before putting in the new. It seems clear that there must be some tearing down and trashing of the old man before he can be remodeled. No one lays a beautiful new Berber carpet over a 1970’s era orange shag carpet. The old must go!

Hosea recognized that God can and will bring us down before building us up. It is often in the depths of our despair that we come to know God. Only when there is nothing left do we really see his love for us. Even Paul had trouble understanding this idea until he had begged for deliverance from some unknown “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). His conclusion was:

“I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

God’s greatest leaders have always been broken before they could be used. Noah spent 120 years laboring over a boat; Abraham wandered as a nomad; Moses fled luxury to tend cattle; even Jesus suffered in the wilderness. In fact the Bible says Jesus “emptied Himself” (Philippians 2:7) so that he could redeem mankind. Like these great men, let us surrender to God so that he might first break us and empty us before rebuilding and refilling our spirit.

When trouble comes, could it be the Lord working to tear us down so that he can rebuild us? It is a frightening thought but one that leaves behind the prospect of a God-built spirit. Remember the words of the psalmist: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain…” (Psalm 127:1).

When Job Saw God

For your consideration:

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…”

(Job 42:5)

Job is a favorite Bible character. He strength and character sustained through the darkest night. He lost his children all at once and lost almost all of his belongings at once. Only his wife and a few friends remained. His friends tried to convince Job of his own sin although he knew he had none. His wife advised that he “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). The God whom he feared had fallen silent.  Continue reading When Job Saw God