Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Secret Ninja

The cleaning lady at my workplace is a Ninja.

How do I know this? You may ask.

Well it started a few months ago...

As Wisconsin was just beginning to emerge from the frozen depths of winter, and its sleepy residents were beginning to thaw out, Bob, the cleaning guy, introduced us to his new apprentice.

She seemed nice, sweet, and shy all in one...at least at the beginning.

I see now that it was merely the mystical power of Bob the Cleaning Boss that kept her under control.

One thing you should know about ninjas is that they are 'effing diabolical.

Ninjas are an elite class of learners, trained in the skills of hunting, eliminating, then disappearing. Fortunately for us, she revered and respected her Sensei, and thus remained visible to us.

But soon, Bob the Cleaning Boss stopped coming in. Her training was complete, it would seem, and she was now free to roam the bank from top to bottom. This was her domain now.

As time passed we saw her less and less. Each closing shift the question would inevitably crop up...

"Is the Ninja here tonight?"
"I don't know, I didn't see her come in did you?"

The secret stealth skills of the Ninja were too great for us, the lowly tellers, so we prayed to Bob the Cleaning Boss to intervene on our behalf. He limited the Ninja's powers by telling her that she had to present herself to the teller line before disappearing for the night.

For a time we lived in relative peace and harmony...but all such times are destined to end.

One day, as we were closing up shop I ventured into the lobby alone. Bad move.

There is an office in the lobby with a bathroom attached. I use this bathroom to change on mornings that I walk to work; the mornings are a safe time for the tellers in the bank, 'cause the Ninja only comes out at night.

I began changing back into my walking clothes when I heard a door outside open.

I froze.
Could it be?

My blood turned to ice as I realized that there was no escape from this tiny cubicle of death, should I have a confrontation with the stealthy, shadow warrior.

Sure enough, all my worst nightmares came true! The handle turned on the door to the bathroom! It all happened so fast, yet it seemed like slow motion at the same time.

Genius me, I didn't lock the door!

There were several reactions that, I recall, happened in that instant.

I looked every which way for an escape. Upon finding there was none I wept bitter tears.

Then I confessed all my sins to God, like any good Christian would do, upon realizing that their life was about to end. I mean, hey, if you are going down, it's probably best to get your shit in order before you meet the Big Guns upstairs.

I even brought up that time I "accidentally" brought one of my friend Justin's lego minifigs home with me. I also confessed about the time I bought candy cigarettes from the gas station, and pretended to smoke them on the corner by the bus stop.

Don't know if those count but better to be safe than sorry, right?

Then I moved.

The door halfway opened, but I managed to jam a stockinged foot in its way. The door shoved a bit more, but then the Ninja relented. Perhaps it was the powerful potency of the smell from my sock, or the sheer blinding brilliance of my porcelain skin. Whatever it was, it broke the power of the Ninja, and saved me in that moment.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't know you were in here!" she mumbled.

All I heard was a sinister...

"We will meet again, my friend." (insert an evil cackle here and you will get a pretty accurate picture of the moment.) I know! Scary shit right?!

Since then the tellers have always stuck in pairs while closing, we may run the bank during the day, but the night belongs to the shadows, and the Secret Ninja.

Monday, August 29, 2011

[Music] Swim- Jack's Mannequin


Jack's Mannequin - Swim by Warner-Music


I started listening to Jack's Mannequin quite awhile back. JM is a side project of the alternative group Something Corporate. I really like the lyrics to this song, so I thought I'd share it with you today!

Swim- Jack's Mannequin

You've gotta swim
Swim for your life
Swim for the music
That saves you
When you're not so sure you'll survive

You gotta swim
And swim when it hurts
The whole world is watching
You haven't come this far
To fall off the earth

The currents will pull you
Away from your love
Just keep your head above

I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
A crack in the armor
I swim to brighter days
Despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water
I'm not giving in
I swim

You gotta swim
Through nights that won't end
Swim for your families
Your lovers your sisters
And brothers and friends

Yeah you've gotta swim
Through wars without cause
Swim for the lost politicians
Who don't see their greed as a flaw

The currents will pull us
Away from our love
Just keep your head above

I found a tidal wave
Begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets
They fired at me from a gun
Cracking me open now
I swim for brighter days
Despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water
I'm not giving in
Well I'm not giving in
I swim

You gotta swim
Swim in the dark
There's no shame in drifting
Feel the tide shifting and wait for the spark

Yeah you've gotta swim
Don't let yourself sink
Just find the horizon
I promise you it's not as far as you think
The currents will drag us away from our love
Just keep your head above

Just keep your head above
Swim

Far From Home

I met my first homeless person today.

Oh, I've seen my share of them, but today I actually put a name with a face. I heard part of a story that is in the process of being told...

As I was standing outside of the apartment, checking e-mails and such on my iTouch, he approached me. He asked if he could make a call on my phone quick if he paid me 50 cents. I told him not to bother, and dialed the number for him.

It was a voicemail.

He had me dial another number, and talked with the person on the other end for a few moments before handing the phone back to me.

He didn't leave right away. In fact, he started striding to the sidewalk and back, all the while talking my ear off. I responded in short sentences, keeping my eyes on the iPod, checking Facebook, e-mails, and all the other important things that should rightfully hold my interest more so than a person in need.

He started telling me about how he'd been through several divorces, and that all the women he'd been with had cheated on him for other guys. The words he used to describe both women, and people of other races were very offensive, yet he claimed not to be prejudiced.

At that moment, something moved me inside, and I felt prompted to listen a bit closer.

Have you ever had a wake up call internally?

The kind of thing that smacks you, like a bucket of cold water thrown in your face?

Here is a person in need, a fellow man, who has endured more hardship than I can say I have in my short lifetime, and I'm treating him as if he is a fly attacking a hamburger at a cookout in July!!

Repeatedly brushing him away until he loses interest and moves on...

I realized that I had been on a wary defensive ever since he had approached me.

Keeping myself relatively closed off to him.

Why?

Because he doesn't have a working cell phone?
Because he doesn't dress in fancy clothes?
Because, somehow, people who are homeless, or have fallen on hard times, are somehow less trustworthy than others?

Worse yet, are they somehow less human to me than others?

It is these moments that have a profound impact upon the individual.

Maybe it's the realization that there is something beyond the scope of their own little world; or maybe it is the revelation that we tend to be much more selfish than we give ourselves credit for. Whatever it was, I was listening.

His name is Tim.

He used to be in the Navy, and became disabled later in life, some sort of shoulder injury, I guess.

He has been with his share of women and, as mentioned earlier, has been married several times. He told me how he desperately wishes he could find someone but that, because of his past experiences, he is unable to trust women.

He looked at the car I was leaning on, and asked if it was mine. I told him it was. I saw a flicker of longing cross his face. He told me how nice it'd be to have a car, which I was quickly coming to realize after he asked me the initial question.

He told me that he is homeless. He crashes periodically at a house across the street from me, but only sometimes. Many nights he doesn't know where he sleeps.

Maybe he doesn't want to remember.

I asked him if he wanted something to drink and he did, so I rummaged through the fridge and produced a bottle of Gatorade. He thanked me.

He remarked on how big my place was and said it was really nice.
I gave him "the tour."
He, again, told me how nice my place was.

It had been awhile since he had called his ride so he used my phone a few more times to get ahold of people, thanked me and walked back across the street. He sat on the step, waiting for a ride that didn't come.

When I came back out, he moseyed back across the street.
He had a new brilliant red shirt on. He said he wanted to show it to me.
It was a Harley shirt that he had bought in Vegas. He loved Vegas he said. He asked me what I thought of the design on the back (a muscle car with a scantily clad woman on the hood).

I told him it was boss.

He used my phone again to call his friend.
I then felt I should offer him a ride to wherever he was going.
He accepted, and I went inside to get ready for work.
His ride did end up coming, and he stopped by to thank me once more.

That was it.

It was today that I realized something that is very difficult to swallow.
I still have prejudices.
As much as I try to rid myself of judgementalism in my heart, it still lingers.
I judged Tim without even bothering to get to know him.
I had slapped a label of "homeless freeloader" onto him.
I had robbed him of a tiny piece of what it means to be human.

Tim is a person.
A homeless person? Yes.

But,

In a sense, we are all homeless.
We are all far from Home.
We are all impoverished, broken creatures.

Because I happen to have more wealth than Tim, doesn't make me any more whole, or complete than him. In some ways, my hesitance to act showed the exact opposite.

Jesus had a lot to say about ignoring the cries of those in need, and failing to use what you have been blessed with to bless others.

Because that really is, in essence, why I believe we are given anything in this life.

If I have a car, I want to use that car to help others who may not have a car.
If I have food, I want to use it to provide for those who may not have food.
My phone might as well be every one's phone.

The reason that Jesus was so adamant about these things was because it helps our perspectives. By realizing that nothing is ours we are freed to focus on the things that matter.

Relationship. Helping others. Giving charity.

When everything is God's, one doesn't have to cling to or hoard material things. They are mere tools at our disposal, ready to be used for His purposes.

Yet, though I "believe" these things, my heart was still reluctant to trust.
I was hesitant to open up to another in need. To share a bit of my life with him, and allow him to share his life and story with me.

And when it comes down to it, if you don't act on something you claim to believe, you probably don't believe it.

To be a follower of Jesus, one needs to be known for more than just having the "right" theology.

It is more than just being able to explain to someone why the way of Jesus is the best way to live.

Following Jesus requires action.

I felt something once I started listening to Tim.
A prompting? An urge? Direction? Call it what you will.

As I gave him that cold Gatorade, I realized that that simple beverage wasn't enough. I started thinking of other ways in which I could possibly meet his needs. To let him know that, though love hasn't been kind to him in the past, he has always been, and always will be, loved.

A simple exchange.
A phone call.
A story.

It is amazing how such simple things can wreck you in the best of ways.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Emergence

In a recent post I defined conversion, from my perspective, as:

Conversion is a religious term that essential boils down to arguing, debating, coercing, or forcing someone to see things the way you see them. To conduct themselves in the way that you see fit or acceptable.

I know this isn't the traditional definition, and it isn't even the most flattering definition, but it is a mentality that I believe many churches, ministries and individuals have adopted, perhaps unconsciously.

Not all, but there are an abundance who do.

A blogger friend of mine, Natalie, commented on the post and asked me the following question...

"If people who were taught the gospel of Jesus Christ, and felt it's truthfulness were not converted, then what were they?"

And I thought it was a damn good question to ask, so I kicked it around in my head for a good portion of the night, and by a "good portion" I mean that I couldn't fall asleep till I finally wrote some thoughts down on paper in the wee hours of the morning.

The word I would use to describe an encounter with Jesus is change. Plain and simple.

Conversion, to me, implies formula. It implies a "plug in the numbers" solution. Math was never my strong subject.
I find that faith is different, however, because it has way too many different variables.

There are many organizations that devote countless dollars, and hours of volunteerism, to the printing and distribution of literature, booklets, and pamphlets that can explain how you can have your own little piece of salvation today.

One of the key verses in these pamphlets are the words found in Romans 10:9:

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."

Somehow, this has become the "conversion formula."

If you... say this particular prayer, and believe what is outlined in this particular booklet, you can be 100% assured of where you would end up if you died tonight.

The problem with this ideal is that it doesn't work. Saying words doesn't change a heart, or a life for that matter.

Throughout my summers as a child, attending church camp, I prayed that prayer every single time I was at camp. It was the trendy thing to do. It never changed my life.

There must be something more to having Jesus enter someones life than a "magical prayer."

And there is.

Consider the early church...

The book of Acts is fantastic, because it is narrative that is about a group of people who chose to live a lifestyle that was unlike anything the world had seen up till that point.

The disciples who had fled after seeing their rabbi executed, suddenly came back bold, changed men, sharing a message that was sure to cost them their lives (and for all but one of the original 12 it did).

But, it wasn't merely about sharing a message, or winning converts to a new religion. The disciples were not about that, and neither was Jesus in his time on earth. It was about a new way of living. The creation of a community that was strikingly different and inviting.

Bringing the kingdom of God to earth.

This was a group who shared amongst themselves.
They cared for the unemployed.
The sick.
The starving.
The hurting.

This was a group where the rich dined with the poor.
The Jews with the non-Jews.
God's "chosen" shared fellowship with the previously "ungodless" and "unclean."

What the heck happened?
It wasn't conversion. It was change.

Change is foundational to the understanding of a life that has been rocked by an encounter with the Living Christ.

When I encountered Jesus, for real, it was about two years after I graduated high school.

I was about as close to an athiest as a rational agnostic could be. I couldn't say for sure that there was no God, but...odds were there wasn't. And if he was up there somewhere he certainly didn't care about me personally.

Throughout high school, and early college I battled with suicidal thoughts. There were good days and bad days. When I was busy with friends, and family and school the thoughts let up a bit, but every night they'd come back. Even when I was on medication for depression, the thoughts would always be just around the corner. Death was a regular thing in my mind.

It was scary, but I just thought that was just life. The life of someone with depression.
It really was a battle.

But then I met this Jesus guy, and things changed.
When I realized that this life wasn't my own, and asked him into my life, the suicidal thoughts stopped.
The depression hasn't left me friends, but there was something new in my life that I hadn't had before.

I finally understood why this Jesus was different for so many. For the first time in nearly a decade I had...

Hope.

Such a small word, yet so powerful.
This is what conversion, religion, and legislative morality cannot do for the individual.

Everyone encounters the Living Christ differently.
There is no "one size fits all" Christian formula, so it is dangerous to assume that a genuine experience with Christ comes only through saying a prayer, going to church, or doing church-y things.

A friend of mine struggled very hard for awhile with God before falling into despondency.
I'll never forget her words, as they still echo in my head to this day...

She said, "I've tried experiencing God like you do, it just isn't real to me..."

Those words broke my heart.

But I realized something in the aftermath that I wasn't clever enough to catch at the time, I can't help but wonder if it would've helped in that moment.

This girl was trying to duplicate my experience.
She was trying to encounter Jesus as I had encountered him, and becoming exceedingly frustrated at the same time.

There is no mold for encountering Jesus or God.
He meets us where we are at.
He asks only for our hearts, and the courage and fortitude to try to love him with all we have in us.

One of my favorite authors, Paul, writes in the book of 2 Corinthians that:

"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, behold! The old is gone, the new has come!"

Creation implies process, not a finished work.
There is something new, but it is yet in the process of being formed, shaped, created...

As with each piece of artwork, the new creation of Christ within the individual is unique and beautiful.

Replicas are not a work of creation, replicas are merely imitation.

Perhaps this clarifies things a bit.
Perhaps this helps you understand my disdain for the "institutionalized" idea of "reaching the lost."
Perhaps this may even help you understand the reason that when you go to church, you don't necessarily feel God's presence or love amongst his own people.
Or perhaps you didn't take anything away from this.

But if nothing else remember this, a life marked by experience with Christ will change you.
When the concepts of the Gospel is stripped down to its bare bones, the message of God to people is about bringing new life, creating new creations, and restoring what was.

That is the power of the message brought forth by a revolutionary Christ.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Those Nights


Skillet-Those Nights (2) by Ickllos

Those Nights- Skillet

I remember when

We used to laugh
About nothing at all
It was better than going mad

From trying to solve all the problems we're going through
Forget 'em all
Cause on those nights we would stand and never fall
Together we faced it all
Remember when we'd

Stay up late, and we'd talk all night
In a dark room lit by the TV light
Through all the hard times in my life
Those nights kept me alive
We'd listen to the radio play all night
Didn't want to go home to another fight
Through all the hard times in my life
Those nights kept me alive

I remember when
We used to drive
Anywhere but here
As long as we'd forget our lives
We were so young and confused that we didn't know
To laugh or cry
Those nights were ours
They will live and never die
Together we'd stand forever
Remember when we'd

Stay up late, and we'd talk all night
In a dark room lit by the TV light
Through all the hard times in my life
Those nights kept me alive
We'd listen to the radio play all night
Didn't want to go home to another fight
Through all the hard times in my life
Those nights kept me alive


Those nights belong to us
There's nothing wrong with us
I remember when
We used to laugh
And now I wish those nights would last...

New Features :)

So today I added a few new links! The pages are listed on the side under the About Me section, and some are also located along the top of the page.

The "Reading Corner" will feature my reading recommendations and will be updated periodically. There is a Quotes page now!

Feel free to either e-mail me or post here with inspiring quotes of your own as well!

There is also a page called Adventures in My World which will have snapshots of places I've been and people I've met! :)

Also, make sure you check out the Invisible Children and I Am Second Links! Very cool stuff!

Hope you all have been well!

Ciao!

Monday, August 22, 2011

El revolucionario Jesús!

On my friend Hayley's blog, she writes in her "About Me" section that she wants to be inspirational like Jesus and Buddha.

I think that is really cool, and very revealing at the same time.

Jesus is inspiring.

Over two thousand years ago an obscure Jewish rabbi shook the foundations of the world as we now know it.

Today, you would be hard pressed to find a person who doesn't know his name (whether or not they know exactly what he was about), and the small collection of books written about him comprise one half of the most widely read book on the planet!

It is crazy to think that one person could have such an impact upon humanity.

That one single man could be so widely loved, hated, and known before social media ever came into being.

That one man could be the cause of a radical, revolutionary way of life; the kind of lifestyle this world had never seen.

Jesus was a revolutionary, without a doubt.

Maybe that is an interesting concept to some, because they are familiar with the "church-version" of Jesus.

You know...the white dude with a beard and a fishbowl around his head, sitting on a throne throwin' up some sort of hand sign that resembles the Boy Scout salute?

Docile.
Stoic.
Boring.

Jesus was nothing of the sort.

This was a man who quite literally challenged the dominant superpower of his day. He refused to acknowledge Caesar as god, which was a capital crime.

He challenged a religious establishment that became fat on the misfortunes of others. A "church", if you will, that many who live in the present day may be all too familiar with.

He associated with all, regardless of class, social status or lack thereof.
Can you imagine?

He talked with the outcasts as well as the religious elite! He talked with the diseased as well as the healthy! He spoke with those outside his ethnic and cultural group...which was absolutely unheard of!

When I think about exactly how counter cultural, and unconventional his style must've been to the power brokers of his time, it absolutely floors me. He is so damn inspiring to me; I want to be like this man!

It is in these moments that I really try to think of how Jesus would seem in my own culture and context.

Think about some of the the people that the institutionalized church treats as "lepers" or "untouchables" today...

The gay community.

The agnostics, atheists and those of various different faiths.

Satanists.

Evolutionists.

Those who cling to their safe little church world often hold these groups at arms length, afraid to reach out and touch them for fear of becoming infected; or worse, the institutionalized church tries to "reach" them.

Sadly, the terms "reach" or "evangelism" are new ways of communicating an age old concept, and that is to convert.

Conversion is a religious term that essential boils down to arguing, debating, coercing, or forcing someone to see things the way you see them. To conduct themselves in the way that you see fit or acceptable.

It is the reason the Jews of Jesus' day conducted themselves as they did. If you were not a Jew, that is, not one of God's chosen people, then you were not worthy to be associated with. The only way to have relationship with a Jew was to convert to Judaism, and even then the converts were treated to a certain degree as a second class citizen.

Racial, cultural prejudice.
Social and economic tiers.
An elite, and those who paid for the elite.

This was not what God envisioned for the people of Israel.
It is not what God envisions for the people of America.

That was why Jesus was so radical.

The gay community.
The agnostics, atheists and those of various different faiths.
Satanists.
Evolutionists.


Do you think Jesus would've spent time with even one of these groups?
I, personally, think that he would spend time with each and every single one.

Know why?
Because they're people.

God created them, just as he created those who profess to follow Jesus, or those who have grown up in church their entire lives!

This is why the early church was influential in such a big way.
This is why the message of Jesus spread like lightning, and resonated with so many people.
This is why the initial institution of the Jewish people as God's chosen, early on in the Old Testament, was so powerful.

These groups of people understood God's vision for the world, and they lived it.

But people forget...

Often.

People forget God's goodness.
They choose instead to live in a world of division.
A world of segregation.
People choose to be blind to the fact that the divine spark is written on the heart of every human on this planet.

It is the church's responsibility to identify this spark.
To be relational with all, just as this God, the very heart of the Christian faith is a personal, relational God.

So then...as a Christ follower, where does that leave me and, possibly, you?

I think that's a wonderful question to start with. :)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Greatest Gift

Time is precious.

It isn't reversible, and it isn't a commodity that we have an abundance of.

It is like drops of clean water, falling from the sky, in a country which has known naught but drought for centuries. It can appear, and then vanish, swallowed by the thirsty ground of eternity, never to be found again...

Isn't time really the greatest gift that you can give to another?

Recently, I began a process.
This process involved the difficulty of burning some difficult bridges.

Let me back up and start over.

There are two kinds of people in this life.
There are givers and takers.

Givers, ironically enough, give. Crazy, right?
They go to great lengths to forge relationships. The cost doesn't matter, the time spent doesn't matter, what matters is getting to know the other person.

It is a very worthwhile and noble pursuit in my opinion.

Takers don't necessarily initiate. They allow the giver to make the effort.
They are not as good at reciprocating the attention which is lavished upon them.

Givers and takers. All people. All flawed in their own ways.
There are dangers to both, admittedly.

I tend to be a giver. Not always, but oftner than not I trend this way...

I love people, and the process of getting to know each unique individual that I cross paths with.
I trust people easily, and trust that they will respect my time, as I value theirs.

But, when you give to takers, the giver is faced with the shaking realization that they are not, and will never be, enough.

When you pour out everything you have, and receive nothing in return, only emptiness remains.
I reached this point, and the ache of the emptiness left within brought me to question myself.

I questioned if I have anything of value in me, anything worth knowing.
I questioned why those I had been investing my time, efforts and soul into, didn't seem all that interested in me.

It is a scary thing, to feel like you are worthless.
Unwanted.
Unremarkable.

It is in these times that I find the voice of God often whispers to us through those we love.

A good friend told me that I trust too easily.
That I throw myself in, 100%, to new friendships without even allowing a level of mutual trust to be built. I have given, too freely, the gift of time to others...the greatest gift one could ever hope to give, and have had nothing to show for it.

No wonder this emptiness that I felt was so devastating. So conflicting.

I am not, by any means, saying that trust is a bad thing, however, when we give our time in the pursuit of another, whether a simple friendship or more, we have to know that they will honor this gift, not take it for granted.

I'm learning to be more sparing with my time.
I'm learning to be more particular with my friends.
I'm learning that, until the effort is reciprocated, others are not worth my full heart and soul.
Not that they are worthless, I promise you this is not what I mean in the least!
But, I am simply stating that they will not receive my full, and undivided attention as others who are trustworthy do.

Your time is valuable.
That is why I love having you stop by here.

I realize that you may take but a few minutes reading a line of my life, but may you know that I value each minute; because in those precious moments you have given me the greatest gift you could ever give...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Never Too Late

This song helped me through a lot of rough stuff. :)
No matter where you've been, or what you are going through right now, it's not too late!
There is always a tomorrow! Stay strong!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Finding Freedom in the Fire

"Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!"

I first heard the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego at a young age in church. In fact, they were, in a sense, part of the young church boy's contingent of original superheroes. Before I knew about Batman, Superman or Spiderman, I knew about Shad, Mesh, and Ab.

I knew about Moses, Joseph, Ezekiel, and, my personal favorite, Joshua.

The beauty of the Bible is that, it is a book that can apply to just about every situation an individual may face today. It is a book about humanity. Many people find it inspiring because they can relate.

People also crave freedom.

Have you ever wished, desperately, to be free of something? I have.

Whether it is sexual tendencies, anger, bitterness, pain, jealousy, the need to control, or just about anything else, for many there is a continual dark corner in our lives that will not relinquish its hold on our soul.

Have you ever had something in your life that you felt was controlling you; scratch that, take it one step further...something that was enslaving you?

The Bible is full of stories of freedom.

This particular story, found in the book of Daniel, is about three men from an exiled nation refusing to conform to the standards of the enslaved.

Because the Israelites at this point were enslaved. They had been conquered by the Babylonian empire, and many had been brought to Babylon to be educated in this particular empire's customs and traditions. They were being made to forget all that made them God's people, and many of the Israelites were ok with this.

Can you imagine? I dare you to try.

Say the United States (or England respectively) was conquered by a foreign power. You have not only been exposed to your homes being burned, your place of worship destroyed, your loved ones killed, or taken away, and your pet cat was eaten by hungry soldiers...

Can you imagine the intense heartache these Israelites felt? Not only had they lost everything they knew, but the were in a foreign country being taught to forget everything that set them apart as a nation prior to this!

Can you imagine being taught to forget your heritage?
Your values that were instilled within you from an early age?
Your faith, even?

This was an oppressive time for Israel as a nation, and many were beginning to forget. They were ok with conforming to slavery. They were fine with their new Babylonian education, and diet. Their stomachs were full, and the conflict was low.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego resisted.
They wanted to be free from this slavery.
They wanted freedom.
And freedom cost them. Big time.

By refusing to acknowledge the king Nebuchadnezzar as a god, they were stripped of their titles and arrested. They were sentenced to death. Death by burning.
Can you imagine anything worse? I have always hated the thought of dying in a fire.

The natural question to ask here is, where is God in all this?

These are men who truly believe in him, and they are standing up to defend him, while everyone else is bowing down to slavery! What's the deal? He's just going to let them die a horrible death for their convictions?

Some God!

They were cast in to the king's furnace, tightly bound so that they couldn't even make a feeble effort to shield their faces before being consumed in flame and death.

But something happened...

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

They weren't alone?
God was with them in the fire?

See, the first thing that I choose to believe when I feel beaten down by the things which enslave me is to believe that God is absent. It is especially easy to do, because I'm a very physical person. I feel love through the comforting hug of a friend, or an encouraging pat on the back... but God isn't here, in the flesh, right now to pat me on the back every time I need a little love.

But that is why faith is so important.

I'm sure Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had plenty of doubt about God's presence as they were standing before the furnace, but he was there.

And here is something to think about...

They were thrown into the fire bound, but they came out freed. They didn't smell of smoke, nor were they singed in the least, but the one thing they left in that fiery furnace was the things that were keeping them tied.

Coincidence?
I don't believe in coincidences.

It was, in that very moment, that these men found themselves freer than the whole nation of Israel. They faced that which was holding them in slavery, and God brought them forth free. Because God is in the business of liberation. He knows that there is so much more to life than a full stomach, materialistic possessions, power, control, sexual indulgence, and complacency.

Ask yourself, is it possible that the fire you face right now has the potential to bring you freedom? Is it possible, even though all our human conventional wisdom points in a different direction, that God is actually here, right now?

That he walks with us always?
That he frees us within the fires of slavery, doubt, and uncertainty?
Do you believe it is possible to be free once again?

I do.