Walking Toward the Furnace by Wil Triggs

This week our small group looked at Daniel 3 and it was quite a time.

The lesson encouraged us to consider ourselves in light of King Nebuchadnezzar. This is something I have never really done. Nebuchadnezzar is the bad guy, the crazy guy, the anger–filled, worship–me pagan polytheistic despot. He’s inconsistent and a flip-flopper. I don’t like to consider how I might be like him. I’m not asking people to worship me, and I’m not throwing people into the fire.

To my surprise, the group didn’t have any problems identifying with him. In the discussion, people animatedly talked of the kind of structures we build for ourselves, how we want to be in control and worshiped (or at least obeyed) by those over whom we have control.

When we are confronted with someone who doesn’t go along with our ways, sometimes we get angry. Maybe it’s not seven-times-the-heat angry, but we aren’t welcoming to people who disagree, who dare to worship and think about God or church or life differently—perhaps even more rightly—than we do. Why don’t they do things our way? The way we want. Don’t they know that we know best Nebuchadnezzar’s judgment found them guilty, defiant lawbreakers who needed to be thrown into the fire.

I had never really considered myself to be a little Neb, so now, I stand corrected, and a little humbled, and not a little embarrassed at the smallness of the realms we hold on to.

Yet the real humility comes when I compare myself to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

So then our talk turned toward the furnace, and how the three young people defiantly and steadfastly stood strong and walked toward the furnace. Those taking them to the furnace perished in the heat. That was one hot fire. Still, they walked to the furnace and stepped into it.

What we face is not the literal furnace fire that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced. Instead, it’s the challenge of life itself answering the prayer of Jesus, “not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15). To be steadfast and trust that God himself is protecting us along the way even when it doesn’t go our way.

And I think about how much easier, more organically me it is to stoke the furnace in judgment of those not like me than it is to step into the furnace of faith itself.

So then I think about people I know or know of who are in their own kind of furnaces.

How do Yousaf and Ruth stand firm? After enduring persecution in their homeland, moving here and now facing the mystery and pain of their daughter’s condition?

Or Ash and Katrina enduring the multiple surgeries of their young son?

Or Nancy who faced a surgery for her daughter and a devastating house fire at the very same time. (You can read that story here.)

What about pastors and other church leaders in Sudan who were arrested for not submitting to a government directive to hand over their churches to government control.

Then there’s Andrew Brunson who has been held in a Turkish prison for nearly a year and appears to be held as a bargaining chip by Turkey in their desire for the U. S. to extradite a Muslim cleric they don’t like who’s living in Pennsylvania. NPR reported the president of Turkey saying just a couple days ago, "You have a pastor, too. You give us that one and we'll work with our judiciary and give back yours."

How can it be that someone so devoted to the care of a people not his own is imprisoned and treated like chattel in some kind of global trade?

I know that God is sovereign, that none of this happens without his knowledge. We haven’t reached the end of the story. I believe that God’s power is made manifest in our weaknesses. When Nebuchadnezzar saw the miraculous preservation of the three young people in the fiery furnace, he saw himself and God in a new light. He was amazed.

How can people see God in such things? Somehow, I think it’s God doing stuff in us that we can’t possibly do ourselves that speaks in ways we can’t. 

So whatever paths we walk today, let’s pray for the fortitude to be faithful as we walk toward the furnace and look forward to when we emerge from it impossibly and miraculously unsinged.

The Fire Chief Blanched White by Nancy Tally

As I write, we are coming to the end of a September heat wave. The thermometer in the backyard has been reaching into the hundreds for the past few days though the official temps have only been in the 90s.

July 1983 was hot like this with temps hanging around 100 as I bent over blackened sodden masses of what was left of my family’s belongings. I couldn’t put it off till the cool hours of the evening because then there would be no light. Yes, no power for lights that would allow me to work in the cooler high 80 degree evenings and no power even for a fan in the daytime.

My task was to go systematically from one room to the next, and list the items that were no more. Nothing survived in the master bedroom. What remained of the curtains--curtains I had so lovingly sewn myself--hung by a few shreds having burnt from the top down. The heat was so intense by the ceiling that it ignited the curtains without the flames ever reaching them. The mobile on the twins' crib had melted. Still attached to the side of the crib, it was now a grotesque stretched out version of its former cute self. The mobile partly smeared its way down the outside of the crib and, on the inside, dripped onto the mattress ending in globular puddles of colors covered in soot.

I looked through the hole where the north window had been. The firemen knocked it out so they could toss my burning dresser and bookcase outside. They smashed to the ground below with an assortment of clothing, bedding, wall board, shoes, diapers, and whatever else was tossed on top like sprinkles on some over baked dessert.

My inspection was interrupted by the fire chief. He had come to apologize that they had not been able to open my windows and air the place out for me. I told him the windows had all been open. We argued about the veracity of my claim. He did not want it to be true. So I took him outside to show him where the billowing smoke left its marks above all the upstairs windows as it exited the house. I watched his face as his eyes widened with horror, he blanched white and nearly vomited on the lawn.

I knew nothing about the nature of fire, and had no comprehension of the emotions that had flooded him or why. As we stood on the lawn gazing up at the smoke stained house, he explained to me about fires and back drafts. The chief had entered the house during the blaze, measuring the temperature and assessing the danger to his men. It was hot, almost too hot, but seeing the windows closed he sent his men in thinking it was safe for them to try and save the house for us. The dark smoke had obscured the fact that I had left all the windows open a good two inches down from the top. The house had not been safe; it had been primed for a back draft. It was only God’s mercy that evening that the house did not explode and that those firemen came out alive.

The fire was designated as arson as we found three other places that day where the children who broke in had tried to set more fires to cover their tracks. I am grateful that none of the other attempts took hold. The heat from the one blaze in the master bedroom was enough to curl and melt the tiles off the bathroom wall on the far side of the house. Hot enough to crack the sounding board of my grandmother’s antique upright grand player piano which was downstairs.

No nothing was ever done to the children. Their father was on the city council. We lived in a known mafia town. The police refused to follow up on any of the leads we had, even though the kids bragged all over town about what they had done.

I did not pursue them because I had other fires to fight while this was going on. Daughter Becca was in ICU at Wylers Children’s Hospital, fighting for her life while I was loudly fighting with the resident over the fact that her shunt surgery (which took place the day before the fire) had failed to resolve the problem. Becca was not okay. Normally I would never have left Becca but Sharon had called and hysterically demanded that I must come home. Sharon was a cardiac ICU nurse and nothing phased her; I had to go. (It was six months later that I found out that Sharon thought my husband, Roland, was in the house and had succumbed to the smoke or the fire.)

To this day I don’t know how the surgeon ever tracked us down to the house where we had regrouped with our other children who had been scattered among our church families. But he did. After screaming at me for disappearing on him when I knew Becca’s surgery had failed, the surgeon accepted my verbal okay to start emergency surgery. He already had Becca prepped. She was critical and he was starting now. It was a few minutes before midnight. Doc H. said to get myself down there now to sign the papers before he got out of surgery. So there I was, headed back into the city at midnight the day after the house burned.

While I held my baby the next day after her surgery ,I groused about the old hymn “God Leads Us Along." The chorus says some through the waters, some through the flood, some through the fire, but all through the blood; some through great sorrow. . . . The song had it wrong! It said some through this and some through that--not one through it all so on I fussed. Then I came to where the lyrics had it right: but God gives a song, in the night season and all the day long.

Though I did not see this part I could always picture it in my head. I’ve written about the neighbor with the apple tree who lived two doors down. She became a part of God's song, because she was the one who saw the fire first, alerted the neighbors who lived in between our houses, grabbed their garden hose and trained the water on my bedroom window--all this before they knew what the ruckus was. She was in her late eighties. The other neighbor was a fireman by trade and took over her hose. That did not put an end to her efforts; she grabbed my garden hose and rejoined the fight till the fire trucks came and the guys again shoed her to the side. 

Some through the fire. Some through it all, but God gives a song, in the night season and all the day long.

Campfire by the Lake Forever by Virginia Hughes

Our family gathers in a circle under velvety darkness, the starry canopy above, the lake lapping at the shoreline and the campfire brightly burning in the center. Sitting just so, all distractions are minimized, togetherness maximized. Such sublime moments grace us with a foretaste of glory divine.

The lighthouse, trout farm, boat rides, jet skis, the lake swims, nature hikes and campfires were Michigan rites of summer brought to us by Evelyn, my sister and her college sweetheart Paul, whom she married. After the young couple moved from Indiana up near Detroit where Paul was raised, we discovered the marriage came with a lake cottage in northern Michigan. This cottage earned Paul our immediate forgiveness for taking Evelyn so far away from us. 

Evelyn is one of my older sisters whom I affectionately consider one of three mothers who raised us along with my sister Mary and our actual mother. A decade or so older than the younger half of the family, Evelyn did her part to keep us in line, getting us ready for church, and reading stories from "The Bobbsey Twins" and a C.S. Lewis collection. Her occasional sisterly pinch under the table warned us, "You better watch it. Do not try Dad's patience further and ruin family dinner." 

Evelyn, always a generous heart, convinced our busy missionary-pastor-professor father to take the rare week off work and bring the whole family up north to the cottage. My two older brothers Richard and Bill were holding down jobs in the cornfields and local tree nursery. The younger half of our family consisted of me, the twins James and Joanne and the youngest sister Rebecca. We were too young to have real jobs, and instead were assigned tedious chores of folding laundry, digging weeds and sweeping floors. The tallest order being to stay alive while mom and dad work at the church headquarters. 

We managed to stay alive those summers despite our favorite pastimes of running amok, hunting down pop bottles to return for coins needed to swim at the local pool with its crumbling cement, collecting wandering pets we would temporarily claim as our own and scouting out the underground trails of forbidden storm sewers. 

I longed for adventure somewhere, anywhere lest I be inventing stories for the perennial first school essay, "How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” My lack of true adventure had previously led to writing grandiose stories and defending their total fabrication against my classmates raising hands to tattle, "Nuh-uh, she never did do any of that. She did not go to Paris or ride any elephant at the zoo." Essay points earned for imagination took a hit from those taken off for blatant dishonesty. I needed my own adventures to recount.

The lake cottage at the end of a long drive up to Michigan awaits. It is our great escape and cache full of enough natural wonders to write action filled essays of true adventure for weeks on end once back at school. 

Settling in at the cottage with the first swim, first boat ride and first campfire, the next day brings a trek to the sparkling white and red lighthouse at Sturgeon Point on Lake Huron. Racing up the spiral staircase to the very top, the wall of windows greets us with great imaginings that we are keepers of the light as lighthouse captains of yore. Racing back down the staircase, running freely through the feathery beach grass to wade at the Point, we fill buckets with the most beautifully smooth stones ever seen. These are nothing like the grey sharp gravel we pick from our knees when we wreck a bicycle in the back alley behind our Indiana home. And this is one of those rare times when no one reprimands, "Don't touch. Put that back." We are millionaires with our buckets full of smoothly patterned stones.

In a nearby sleepy lake town, we investigate the shops and bookstores, our favorite, Ye Old Ice Cream Shoppe, selling Mackinac Island fudge and rocky road, we order "Mack-i-nack" fudge ice cream, mispronouncing Mackinac with an "ack" sound at the end instead of "aw,” much to the delight of the server eager to correct such a touristy error. "It's pronounced Mackinawwww. Mackinaw Island, Mackinaw fudge."

We visit a local trout farm where fishing is rather like shooting fish in a barrel which delights us wiggly youngsters not having grown into the patience of real fishing, sitting quietly in a boat, relaxing on a pier or standing in a stream casting for evasive rainbow trout. It's all victory giggles catching trout with the drop of a line, whether we remember to bait the hook or not. The trout leap out of the water at the line before it breaks the surface. The odds are forever in our favor at the trout farm.

Fresh juicy cherries from a roadside stand are an ideal snack for hikes through the woods. We climb a small rise and spot a family of young raccoons, peeping at us from a high vantage point in a tall tree demonstrating how kids of all species do not value sleep. Butterflies dance in the wildflowers, eagles soar in the sky, and time around the campfire warms us each night. 

Clear days end with the family gathering around the fire and it's a marvel from start to finish. A suggestion of flame from the match catches a scrap of paper, the flames grow and ignite the smaller sticks until the larger logs burst into flames and a fire is born. Chocolate squares and graham crackers await while roasting sticks are loaded with marshmallows. After a few sticky s'mores, story time begins with retelling all the events of the day. What we saw, where we went. Who wiped out the worst while learning to water ski. Who still needs to lean just so to perfect the slalom. Who has rug burns from the inner tube rides. 

The fire crackles. It draws us in and mesmerizes, the lake laps at the shoreline. We stretch out in the boat to stare up at the night sky like Abraham of old watching the shooting stars too numerous to count. Then return to the fire for more stories, a song, more laughter--our voices ring out across the lake. In the exuberance of youth, we don't want the day to end. We don't want the fire to go out. It will never be the same as right now. Everyone is so happy. Here we are together in perfect harmony.  

Someone put another log on the fire. Just one more, please?  The log is gently placed and sparks fly. The bark quickly catches fire and steam escapes with a gentle hiss. The seasoned log provides another precious hour of campfire time together. One more song, one more story until we stumble indoors to enjoy peaceful slumber at the end of a perfect day in the cottage by the lake.

As seasons pass the cottage is still in the family. We have grown and our own young ones have become well-seasoned in the rites of summer at the lake cottage in Michigan. Another generation revels in local haunts by day and delights in the nightly campfires.

Ev and Paul have been caring for the lake cottage for a long time. They have continually made improvements and extended generous hospitality and eventually grow weary with the money pit the cottage seems to have become. They consider relocating to a different perhaps newer lake house on the trendier west side of the state. 

On the other side of this process they realize their roots for the cottage go very deep. They are attached to the quaint quiet of the cottage. This is their repaired seawall, improved dock, their family stories which have sweetened over the years. Evelyn, an experienced birder, has an expanding list of birds from visits to Tuttle Marsh: American bittern, cormorant, eagle, loon, osprey, sandhill crane, swans to name a few.

Paul shares memories of coming up to the land by the lake when he was seven, with his father, Frank, and older brother, Ron, before the cottage existed. The brothers occupy themselves while Frank builds the cottage with his own hands and singular ingenuity. Paul chuckles as he remembers the story of how he and Ron fill their time on one of these trips. They find Frank's giant magical measuring tape. It pulls out of its case and snaps back. The young boys man the tape skillfully. Pulling and unwinding with glee; running and wrapping it from tree to tree hither and yon counting off the numbers on the yellow tape 15, 20, 25 . . . how high does it go? At sixty-feet of unwound measuring tape decorating round and round the trees, their father checks on them, sizes up the destruction and calls out in dismay as the unwound tape is bent and stretched beyond measure. An exasperated Frank loads Ron and Paul back into the car. He drives home feeling defeated, unable to measure anything and wondering how the cottage will ever be built at this rate. However, Frank does not give up. He determinedly builds, and builds and builds the cottage so well that it eventually becomes a special destination sheltering family and friends and creating summer memories for generations.

After a while the cottage is up for sale again. No buyers appear. We all continue to enjoy time there. Paul alternates between listing the cottage and taking it off the market. He fixes whatever needs fixing season after season. Then suddenly this summer, a buyer appears who wants to buy the cottage. Right now. The immediacy of the sale is eminent. Paul and Ev process the details and empty the cottage of all but its beds and patio furniture for the new owner. They are grateful for the buyer, but obviously forever attached to the place. We all are. 

They find new homes for some items and call trucks from donation places for the remainder. The jet skis get loaded onto the trailer and driven off by a new owner. The boat gets sold. Days at the cottage are coming to an end.

We long for one last night around the crackling fire. We remember treks to the light house, the trout farm, swimming in the lake and hiking through the woods and the campfires at the end of the day. What bliss.

The campfire gives us something to join when the day is over before we are. Come join us around the fire, friends and family. The story telling begins. Reflections of the day and days long past. Remember when you finally stood up on those skis? Remember when you wiped out in those reeds?

The simple mesmerizing beauty of the fire always draws us. Smoke gets in our eyes as our voices and laughter ring out across the lake. We don't want the day to end. We don't want the fire to go out. We are watching and waiting, looking above, filled with his goodness lost in his love. 

Chocolate Brownie Cake: From the Kitchen of Pat Cirrincione

Once Pat started talking about her homemade brownie cake, we couldn’t resist asking for her recipe which, fortunately for all of us, she gladly shared.



1 box of chocolate cake mix (any kind)
1 box of fudge brownie mix (I use Pillsbury) 
4 eggs (I use extra large eggs)
 1 1/4 cups of water
 1 cup oil (I use Crisco vegetable oil)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the ingredients in mixing bowl, and then bake in a Bundt cake pan that you have sprayed with Pam for 50 to 55 minutes.Cool for 5 minutes and then remove from bundt pan.

I either dust the cake with powdered sugar or make the following:
Heat one bag of chocolate chips in your microwave oven for two minutes.
Pour 1 cup of heavy whipping cream over chips. Stir until chips are melted.
Let sit for five minutes, and then pour over your cake.

A Secret Passion by Pat Cirrincione

Pat speaks to every woman’s heart (and a few men) as she divulges her passion for anything chocolate.

I’ll be the first to admit it, I have a passion for anything chocolate. Chocolate cake, chocolate chip cookies, dark or milk chocolate covered candy or nuts or fruit of any kind. Chocolate donuts, chocolate milk, if there is chocolate in any part of  the word, recipe or description, I have to check it out.

I’ve even done research on the topic. According to Joel Glenn Brenner, in his book The Emperors of Chocolate, Inside the Secret World of Hershey & Mars, “drinking a cup of morning chocolate was considered the height of fashion among Eighteenth century Europe’s aristocracy. And that milk chocolate – like gold – possesses, some say supernatural powers. That few can resist the sumptuous combination of mellow, ivory milk and bold, alluring chocolate. That together, they have captivated the world.”

Brenner continues: “Although no one knows how humans struck upon the  process of making the drink, archaeological evidence reveals that by the time of Christ, ancient peoples of Mesoamerica had been enjoying it since 1000 B.C.” It was considered the food of the gods, but I’ll be content knowing only one God could have created such a delightful thing as the cocoa bean to bring a smile to the faces of his creation.

Is it any wonder then, that when you go to a football game in the fall—and the days eventually willturn cool and crisp—you see many people around you enjoying a cup of hot, steaming, chocolate? Not only does it taste and smell good, but the feel of it warming your hands through your mittens is delightful.

Lest you think chocolate is only for drinking, do you remember how gooey and creamy S’mores are? That wonderful campfire concoction of graham crackers with Hershey chocolate squares melting under the marshmallows you roasted, with crispy burnt edges? I am going into spasms of sheer joy just thinking about how good that would be right now.

Now that I have whetted your appetite for this delicious tasting gift from above, let me give you some sad news before we get back to the good news. In the 1970s, according to our expert source, Brenner, “nice people did not eat chocolate.” For a moment, I thought I had gone delusional when I read that. Chocolate had become a “pariah,  a tawdry indulgence for middle-aged traveling salesmen, pimply overweight  teenagers, and lonely housewives watching the afternoon soaps.” But then came the 1980s and sanity returned.

In that decade, elegant chocolate boutiques began appearing across the United States. These wonderful stores catered to customers, like myself, who delighted in picking out individual bon-bons or two or three or . . . . Candy boxes were remade, and we were being tempted by Godiva, Frango Mints, Hershey, Nestle and Mars. I thought I had died and gone to chocolate heaven! Life had returned to normal. Life was good again, and I could return to either one square of dark chocolate a day, or a bag of Hershey kisses while reading a book or a jar of Nutella in which to dip my fruit.

By now you get the picture. I have a passion for anything chocolate. With late September turning to October soon, my thoughts turn to baking and my chocolate fudge brownie cake or maybe my chocolate, chocolate chip cookies with sea salt. I have a good idea, why don’t you come over for a visit?  I’ll put on the coffee and tea pot, make something chocolaty, and we can go over this week’s Bible study together.