"Images of Gold"
Given By John McKay
At North Arnold Mill Baptist Church on November 26, 2006
Good morning, and thank you for coming to worship in Godıs house today. I am John McKay, and know your Pastor (Frank Abbamonte) from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where we are both students. We have talked about this church quite often in classes over the past year, and it was a great honor for Pastor Frank to ask me to preach here today. I must let you know one thing from our private discussions, though; Pastor Frank has a very deep and abiding love for each one of you, and this church, that shows through quite clearly in quite literally everything I have heard him say about you. It is a wonderful thing to hear a pastor talk so lovingly of his congregation, and know just from hearing him speak how greatly God has gifted this church.
Today, I would like to talk about the lessons we see for todayıs world as found in the third chapter of Daniel, and the story of three great witnesses of God, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. In the first two chapters of the Book of Daniel, we have seen where the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar promotes one of his captive Jews, Daniel, to be his most trusted advisor, and even praises the God of Abraham after Daniel correctly identified and interpreted one of the kingıs dreams. In the third chapter, Nebuchadnezzar raises a massive golden idol to his god, Nebo (or Nebu), and sets down a royal decree that it must be given worshipful honor by every official in his empire. The three young friends of Daniel, provincial officials in Baylon better known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, refuse to do so and thereby dishonor the God they serve, even at the threat of a horribly torturous death.
As a way of introducing myself, let me explain why this particular text has such great meaning for me personally.
I was raised in an atheist family, where I was taught to mock and ridicule religion in general, and Christianity especially. My father had, and still has, a great disdain for people of faith I was taught to believe that all believing Christians were simply stupid, while Southern Baptists were the absolute maw of the beast! I was taught that life is a simply random accident, that there is no sort of any existence after death, and the best you can do is endure, enjoy yourself as much as possible, and to make a name for yourself through actions and accomplishments. This is very similar to the beliefs of the ancient Greek Epicurians, which my father greatly admired, and that the Apostle Paul spoke of so negatively in Acts 17:18. I decided very early on that I wanted to make my mark in this world by becoming as big a hero as possible. Dad used to read to me bedtime stories from ancient Greek mythologies and histories, and I thought if I made a big enough mark in the world, then people 2,000 years from now would still be talking about me, too.
As you might imagine, humility was not a large part of my upbringing!
I started my quest for immortality by joining the Army while still in high school. The Vietnam War had just ended, which I now know was a great blessing from God for me personally, but at the time I was upset because it would be hard to earn medals and acclaim in peacetime. When I got out of the Army, I went to work at Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta as a Paramedic.
I didnıt really know what I wanted to do with my life at that time, I was about as far from being a believer in Christ as one could be, and all I really wanted to be was a hero. Grady was a good place to try and become one, as we averaged around 15 calls per shift, many of which were very violent trauma scenes, as well as dangerous rescue situations. Some of the violence was still going on when we arrived on scene, which made for some even more exciting situations. Some of the rescue scenes were overly exciting as well, leading to awards, commendations and plaudits on the evening news.
This was all very exciting and nice, but none of it satisfied the hunger I had for more. I know now what it was I was lacking, but at the time, I just wanted to get into more and more dangerous situations, and be a bigger hero to more people.
After a few years at Grady, I got interested in firefighting. It seemed like a great way to make a living
- You wear $2,000 custom made suits that your job buys for you
- You drive to work in a million dollar vehicle
- That vehicle has all sorts of shiny things, flashing lights, and great noisemakers to listen to
- People have to get out of your way as you drive to work, itıs the law!
- Once you get to work, you get to take sledgehammers and knock down doors, and use saws to cut big holes in roofs
- Then you get to use big water hoses and spray water all over everything inside the house
- They pay you to do all this, and people love you for it!
After training and working for other fire departments, I joined the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Fire Department. Firefighting is a great job, but not exactly heroic and glamorous, most of the time, and I learned this hard lesson very quickly. More often than not, instead of widely publicized scenes of heroic rescues, you end up spending tedious, dangerous and exhausting hours pouring water on mostly burned down structures. It wasnıt long before I became restless again, and started looking for other ways in which to become a well-known hero.
In 1992,I was selected to attend firefighting instructorıs school, and was reassigned to the training department, teaching new recruits. Each one of these new recruit was put through a three month school that taught them how to work in zero-visibility environments, handle ladders and all the equipment on the trucks, and get used to the searing heat of structural fires. In 1993, I was promoted to lieutenant, and put in charge of the training department. As I was still looking for awards and glory, this seemed like an exceptionally good thing.
My wife, Bonnie, a registered nurse, joined the department as a volunteer medical officer in 1990. She was a near-lifelong Christian, and had been attending a very active church until shortly before we married. I had less than no interest in being one of those ³church people,² like some of the men I worked with. Bonnie had backslidden around the time we married, and had quit attending church, something I heartily endorsed at the time. By the early 1990s, though, she had followed Godıs calling back into the faith, and had begun attending church on her own again.
Bonnieıs very obvious and deep faith in the Lord had affected me by that time, and I started going to church with her. I still didnıt believe in a God, much less in Jesus Christ being Lord & Savior, but the fact that my dearly beloved wife was such a believer started working on me. If she believed in something that deeply, there simply had to be something more to it than I had been taught by my parents. I thought about this often, but could not bring myself to the point to admit I had been wrong about anything yet.
In October of 1992, we had been donated an old house to burn and train in. I was going to lead my first full class of rookies into their first real fire situation. I was in a hurry to get going, and made some critical mistakes. One of these firefighters did not have his gear on properly, and we didnıt catch it until right as we were supposed to enter the burn building. It took several minutes to correct, and the set fire got out of control in the meantime.
When we entered the burn house, I saw far more fire inside the main room than I had ever seen in a training situation before, way more than was really safe, and this was the very first real fire these new recruits had experienced. What I should have done was back out and send in the safety crew to knock down the fire and reset it. Instead, I ordered the rookies into the room.
We couldnıt see much fire through the heavy, black smoke. I remember seeing flames start to appear in the midst of the smoke, realized what was about to happen, and turned to order the rookies to hit it with their hose. All of them were frozen, just staring at all the fire and smoke. Before I could react and grab the hose away from them, the room flashed-over.
What that means is that the air and everything in the room had reached its ignition temperature, between 800-1000 degrees Fahrenheit. I remember falling on my face, and thinking I was dead. It seemed like hours, but after just a few seconds in that fireball, the safety crew came in, put me out (all my equipment was burning), knocked the fire down in the room, and got us all out safely.
My firefighters coat, made of a NASA produced material called PBI, that isnıt supposed to burn, was badly damaged, and my helmet, rated to withstand 500-degree temperatures, had scorched, pitted and partly melted.
This event shook me up for more reasons than the fire itself. While I was inside that fireball, something odd had happened. I had fallen on the floor, getting as low as possible, and had started feeling the heat from my gear catching on fire. But, after a second or two, I felt something, or someone, wrap around me, shielding me from the heat and flames. All of my gear was destroyed, but I didnıt have so much as a bruise in the end.
Bonnie told me at the time she had watched what had happened from outside the house, but that the Holy Spirit had let her know I would be fine. We talked about the reality of God, and Christ as being my savior, but I was still too dumb and stubborn to let go of what I knew, or thought I knew, to be right. Even after this direct and unmistakable show of Godıs power and mercy, Bonnie had to witness to me for 10 more years before she could lead me to the Lord.
Now, what does all this have to do with the lesson in Daniel?
King Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage when he was told his three Jewish provincial officials had not bowed down to his golden idol. He warned them that if they continued to refuse, he would have them cast into a fiery furnace, to burn alive in the intense heat. They not only refused to back down, they responded with no little fire of their own to Nebuchadnezzarıs threats:
Daniel 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, ³O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.
Daniel 3:17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.
Daniel 3:18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.²
Blind with rage, Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace to be heated as high as it would go, for the three Jews to be bound up tightly, and for his strongest soldiers to cast them into the furnace.
The intense heat killed all the soldiers as they stood next to the furnace, after throwing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the flames. But, a few moments later, Nebuchadnezzar leapt to his feet, astounded to see not only the three walking around in the midst of the fire unbound and unharmed, but there was a fourth man inside with them, ³who is like the Son of God.²
As he called for them to exit the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar once again praised the God of the Israelites, and so fearful of the power of the living God, which he had just seen demonstrated before his very eyes, he ordered that no harm be done again to the Jews he had minutes before ordered to be tortured to death.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego didnıt have PBI turnout gear and high-temperature rated firefighting helmets to protect them from the inferno of that furnace. It did not matter though, as what actually protected me from death in my own fire protected them all those many years ago
God had other plans for them that day
And we know that part of that plan was to use them to display his might and glory to an unbelieving king.
I was not a believer in Christ at that time, but God in His mercy and wisdom decided to save me from my own fiery furnace as well. I do not know why, only that He saw some use for me in His kingdom.
God has plans for you as well,
None of us know for sure what those plans may be, or where He may see fit to put us, but we can rest assured in one thing,
These plans are to prosper you and not to harm you, as the prophet Jeremiah wrote 2,500 years ago.
God knows what is best for both you and His kingdom, and will arrange your circumstances to meet this. It may not always be what we want to happen.
So long as you live here on earth, you will experience trials and hardships, you will have ³fiery furnaces² of your own to go through
You may be going through something right now that seems like it will burn you up
You may have already gone through hard trials and difficult circumstances
For the rest of your life these trials will appear from time to time.
How you deal with the circumstances of your particular situation depends entirely upon how well you know and rely upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
I did not have Christ as my Lord and Savior when I went through this trial by fire, and could see nothing but pain, suffering and death awaiting when it happened.
But like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we who are called by His name have a powerful protector who can see us through anything, any situation, any problem, any seemingly hopeless disaster.
We who have surrendered our life to God do not have any need to worry about these situations, because we have all we need in three short words:
³But even if²
Daniel 3:18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.²
No matter what we face, we can face it with confidence, calmness, and even joy, because we know that our God loves us, knows what is best for us, and will take care of every situation in a way that is both best for His kingdom and us in the end. Even in the fiery furnace of your own lives, all you need to do is look around, because God will be standing right beside you amidst even the most intense flame.
All of this, though, depends on what it is that you worship. At the time, I believed only in myself, and sought out fame, glory and riches to prop up the false faith I had in my own abilities, my own intellect, and the delusion of my own greatness.
Truth be told, I did this because I felt so hollow and empty inside, but what awards and acclaim did come my way seemed so trivial in the end. Iıd go home after an awards ceremony with some polished piece of wood with my name printed on it, and set the thing up on a shelf, and feel more miserable than ever before.
What I really wanted, but didnıt know it until I finally had it, was God and His immeasurable love. Plaques, awards, promotions, television appearances, fame and glory all were nothing compared to this.
Paul wrote of this in Philippians 3,
³I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.²
Just like Nebuchadnezzar, have you set up an image of gold that you worship, that you demand other people acknowledge, bow down to and worship alongside you, just so you do not feel so empty and hollow anymore?
Or have you allowed the Prince of Peace to enter your heart, heal all the hurt and wounds, and give you more love than you ever knew could exist?
If not, He loves you, just as he did me back when I cursed and mocked His name.
He waits on you, just as he did me.
And He will accept you without condition or reservation, just as He did me.
Let us pray,
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the marvelous gift of your Word, for the stories of those saints who went before us, how Your hand was placed on their lives, and how they responded to your guidance with courage and faith. Help us to remember that in the middle of our own trials that You are there, You are standing right beside us, and that You know what is best in ever y situation. Help us, dear Lord, to increase our faith, to place all our trust in You, and to accept with gladness every trial and task that stands in our path, knowing that You are our strong tower, our mighty fortress, and that you will uplift and keep us safe, until that wonderful day when you take us home to be in your presence forever. We praise and thank you in the name of your Son, our Blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Our altar is open, and I invite you to come forward. If you have not yet accepted Christ as your own personal Lord and Savior, I invite you to come forward. If you have prayerfully decided that this church is the right fellowship for you, I invite you to step forward and join. If you need someone to stand beside and pray with you over any issue at all, I invite you to come forward. If you have a call to share with the church, I invite you to come forward. If you need to kneel beside the altar and place your burdens at the foot of the cross, I invite you to come forward.
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