What does success look like to you? Perhaps you think of a great career, one that pays well and has a lot of room for improvement. Maybe you think of a confident, self-assured person who carries himself well and can speak eloquently in front of crowds. Perhaps you think of someone popular, like a famous athlete or movie actor. Maybe you think of a person who earns enough to buy a lake home and a boat, who wears name brand clothes and can afford the latest technology. Most of us, whether we like to admit it or not, associate “success” with wealth. After all, we’ve been programmed to believe that “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” So let me pose another scenario: Would you consider someone a success who goes about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated, wandering in deserts and mountains, in caves and in holes in the ground? Does that sound like any definition of success? Honestly, no. That sure doesn’t sound like something I’d aspire to in order to be “successful.” But the answer may surprise you.
Last week one of our lessons for the children’s Bible story time during day camp was the Fiery Furnace. You know the story well- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue, a “crime” which was punishable by death in a fiery furnace. So the three were bound and thrown into the furnace, but God saved them by sending “the angel of the Lord” into their midst, so that not one of their hairs was singed. It’s a wonderful account, one that most of us learned in Sunday school, but this time around what struck me the most about it was the response the three friends gave to the king before they were thrown into the fire. “We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18, italics mine).
How did he hear about Jesus? Our Lenten services this year focus on the words from the cross, and last night we focused on the promise of Paradise given to the thief on the cross. Now, there are a number of different ways to look at this event, from the parable of the workers in the vineyard to faith like a mustard seed to a discussion on the necessity of baptism. But what struck me about last night’s service was something I’d never thought of before- how did this criminal come to saving faith in the Redeemer of the world? Continue reading “Did You Hear?”