Attending Sunday School as a child, I must have been taught a lot of Bible stories. I’m sure they were taught simply, that as a child I could begin to understand some simple Biblical principles. No doubt the important stories were connected the the Church year; that’s the holidays and celebrations that the Church celebrates during the year. Certainly I learned of Y’shuaJesus’s birth during the time of year most call Christmas, December 25th. Likewise, as Easter approached I must have been taught Y’shuaJesus’s death and resurrection.
I don’t remember. I don’t remember the specific lessons, though some how I know that I learned some of the Bible stories. And I do remember that at some point in my earliest years I learned “Thou Shalt Not.” I learned a lot about what I was not suppose to do; sadly, I don’t remember learning just what I was suppose to do.
Also, there were no alter calls, like some churches; the closest thing in my church was being called to come forward for communion. My church didn’t do the “born again” thing. I think it was just assumed that because as babies we were baptized we were right with G-d. I attended classes during my sixth-grade years that prepared me for “confirmation;” my baptism was confirmed to have taken, I guess. Someone said that confirmation was the church’s way of baptizing in the Spirit.
It wasn’t until eighth grade that I learned about alter calls. I was a cadet at Brown Military Academy, Glendora, California. That was one of the best years of my youth. I remember Mr. Kitchen and Mr. “C.” The school wasn’t a Christian school, as such, but we had a few hours of religion each week as part of our studies. It was very different from Sunday School. We studied from the Gospels and from the writings of Paul. We actually read and discussed the Bible.
One weekend, I, along with most of my class, went with Mr. Kitchen to a “youth retreat.” I remember volunteering for latrine duty for the weekend: I, along with a couple others, cleaned the bathrooms. We had several lively praise and worship sessions, classes, and did some fun outdoor activities. Late Sunday morning, during the last church service of the weekend came the alter call. I can see in my mind’s eye the church and the other kids. At the alter the pastor asked us to bow our heads in prayer. He prayed. He spoke to us about accepting Jesus into our lives. He asked for a show of hands of those who would like to give their lives to Jesus. I remember peaking out to my left at hands going up. Then he asked that we all stand. He asked for those who’d raised their hands to come forward. At the alter camp staff had gathered. Boys began to move forward to the alter.
Did I raise my hand? I don’t know. Did I walk forward to the alter? No, I did not. I remember how I felt within. I remember the desires—to raise my hand, to go forward to the alter. I remember the struggle, too, within. And I think I was still thinking about to go forward when church was dismissed; my opportunity now gone. Hesitation. Unable to decide. Hallmarks of a life to come.
This one event, this one experience, I’ve made into a pivotal life-changer. Many times, usually as a result of my own hesitation, my own inability to do what I feel within to do, my abandonment of my will to that of others, I think back and say to myself, “If I’d just gone forward, maybe things would be different.” If I’d had the courage, then, to stand up, to run, not walk, to that alter, it may have set a precedent in my life of living for G-d, and His promptings within me, rather than just living, going along.
As I look back at that failure at camp, and the many failures in the fifty-four years since—despite everything—I see evidence of G-d’s presence in my life, His protective hand and His merciful ways.
All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord? Exodus 17:1-2
“They began to question whether God was with them or not,” wrote Matthew Henry in his commentary. “This is called their ‘tempting God,’ which signifies distrust of him after they had received such proofs of his power and goodness.”
I still have the Bible given to me at Brown Military Academy. In the front of the Bible I’d written Romans 8:36-38. In the midst of my poor choices over that last half decade, the disasters, struggles, trials, I didn’t know that the LORD was with me. He was present. He is present. We hear a lot that Y’shuaJesus experienced in his sojourn upon Earth all that we experience so that He can “understand” us. Y’shuaJesus continues to experience everything we experience, for He is with us. His Spirit has been in the world and His Spirit has acted in the world for centuries. As His Spirit begins to recede from the Earth, His presence will be only in us, His Chosen, His People. We will shine like flames in darkness, for the world will fall into spiritual darkness.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39
I noted the passage from Romans as a reminder, one that I failed to remember. But I’m not sure I really understood it anyway. The next time the world feels as though it is collapsing around me, will I remember G-d is with me? I pray so. I pray you, too, despite all to the contrary, you remember G-d is with us.
Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
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.*”
Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated. And he ordered some of the mighty men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their tunics, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods. Daniel 3:8-25 (*emphasis added)
G-d is with us. G-d can save us. And here is a beautiful faith: “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.”