Jeremiah 23: Isn’t my Message like fire?
The prophet is still thinking about the “peace and prosperity” preachers who feed their congregations a diet of “cake and ice cream” sermons. People enjoy these pleasant sermons, but what they’re hearing lacks God’s authority. Jeremiah calls such preaching “silly” and compares it to “straw” and not messages with real substance to them. The Almighty reminds Jeremiah that when the message he preaches comes from the Lord that his words are like fire and “like a sledgehammer busting a rock.” Two things come to mind here. First, the Lord’s displeased with preachers who focus on preaching entertaining, “what they want to hear” kinds of sermons. Second, there’s a great need for sermons with the fire of God’s Word in them. The first kind of sermon may get the preacher some compliments, but the second kind changes lives even as a sledgehammer changes a rock. I thank God for preachers who have ministered God’s Word to me by bringing sermons that were God-inspired and God-empowered. As a preacher myself, I don’t want to waste my ministry preaching “that’s nice, ho-hum” sermons. Life is too short and opportunities are too few as it is. Lord, let your fire ignite me, my sermons, and my listeners.
Take Away: There’s a great need for sermons with the fire of the word of the Lord in them.
2 Chronicles 35: The king…solemnly committed himself to the covenant.
When a campfire is fully ablaze, the individual flames are generally unnoticed. However, as the fire burns down to embers, an individual blade of fire may seem to light up the entire campsite for a moment. That’s the feeling I get as I read the story of the waning days of Judah. Most everything’s bad. Kings rise to power and then fall and almost seem to be in a competition to see who can be the most ungodly. However, along the way we meet some courageous men who, almost single handedly, lift the entire nation to their shoulders and craft, at least temporarily, a return to God. Such a man is Josiah. When the word of the Lord is discovered in the Temple he publicly vows to live according to the ancient covenant. He seeks God’s direction and receives it. Because of his desire for God, an entire generation is stopped from the march to destruction that it has been on. As I look at my own society and see the journey we’re on I nearly surrender to despair. We’re so godless, so lost in the darkness of our own making. Still, I’m reminded that even in a dying campfire just one flame can light the night. I pray that the Lord will give such a leader to my generation.
Take Away: Lord, have mercy on us.
The God of Second Chances
1Kings 18: Reveal to this people that you are God…and that you are giving these people another chance at repentance.
The “god-contest” is about over. Baal’s priests have prayed for hours. They’ve cried out and they’ve offered their cruel god their own blood. But there’s been no answer. The lone prophet of Jehovah God steps up. Now, it’s his turn. There’s no shouting and Elijah doesn’t cut himself to get his God’s attention. Instead, he cries out for God’s mercy: “Show them that you are giving them another chance” he prays. I am glad today that God is the God of Second Chances. Even when we mess up in stupid ways, God offers us second chances to repent and turn. Note that this isn’t about God turning a blind eye to their sin, offering to take them back on their own terms. The “second chance” is the chance to repent and change their ways and return to him. It’s a great offer that gives those of us who’ve crossed over the line away from God the opportunity to return. In this story, the falling fire on the sacrifice is a minor thing in comparison with the mercy of God that falls on these backslidden Hebrews.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances and that’s good news because we desperately need a second chance.
The God who answers with fire
1Kings 18: The god who answers with fire will prove to be, in fact, God.
Elijah proposes a sort of contest between Baal and Jehovah. An animal sacrifice will be prepared and laid out. Only one thing will be missing: the fire. Baal’s prophets will call out for their god to send fire, and then Elijah, God’s man, will call out to his God for fire. Whichever one sends fire will be the One they’ll worship. The people agree to the proposal, calling it “a good plan” and the contest begins. I think it is, indeed, “a good plan.” Why serve a god that can’t answer? If Jehovah God can act, if he can move in this world and in our lives, it makes perfect sense to serve him. That’s one side of the story. The other is a reminder that we have no authority to set up hoops and demand that God jump through them if he wants us to serve him. Not only has he already answered with fire in this story, but also he continues to work in this world every day. The very fact that the sun came up this morning is proof that he is God. Frankly, the fact that you’re reading this right now, even as you’ve had questions about the reality of God is evidence that he’s real and that he’s reaching out to you. Tell you what, if you’ll respond to this offer of fellowship from the Lord, you’ll experience something a lot more impressive than fire falling from heaven as God moves on your heart and life. And, it can happen this very hour!
Take Away: When you reach out to the Lord in faith he’ll move in ways in your life just as convincing as fire falling from heaven.
Step into the fire
Deuteronomy 5: You were afraid, remember, of the fire and wouldn’t climb the mountain.
It was over 40 years earlier but Moses remembers it like it was yesterday. God called him up to the mountain and in that place he had a powerful encounter with the Almighty. The people of Israel, however, didn’t want that experience. They saw the billowing smoke and the fire of God and were afraid. Because of that, they preferred that Moses be their representative while they stayed safely in the valley. I wonder how many blessings I miss because it is easier to stay where I am than it is to have a raw, fire-filled encounter with the Lord. To be fair, there’s more going on in my heart that just my wanting to stay comfortably unchanged. After all, it’s frightening to come face to face with God. To get that close to God is to step into the fire. Intellectually I know it’s a good thing to meet God at that level. In fact, I hunger for him in my spirit. Still, I find myself hesitating to abandon myself to the fire of the Almighty. But I must. Otherwise, I condemn myself to a life that’s a shadow of what it could be.
Take Away: When the Lord invites you to step into the fire accept that invitation.
Leviticus 10: Distinguish between the holy and the common, between the ritually clean and unclean.
It starts with another “fire” issue. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu have failed to follow the Lord’s instructions concerning fire used in worship. The result is fire from Above! The fire of the wrath of God kills them. Things have calmed down a bit, and Moses warns everyone to not take the things of God lightly. Holy things must be treated as such; with reverence. If it’s possible to treat uncommon things as common and thus bring condemnation, it is just as possible to treat common things as uncommon. Our society specializes in that. Things that should be treated with absolute reverence are tossed aside as though they’re worthless. Silly things that are either simply common or worse are held up as shining objects of worship. My society does that with sports, entertainment, and so-called success. To treat the holy as common is sin that brings death. The same can be said of treating common things as holy.
Take Away: Priorities are critically important in all of life.
Fan the flames
Leviticus 6: Keep the fire burning on the Altar continuously. It must not go out.
Instructions for worship continue, and will throughout the book. The command to keep the Altar fire burning stands out. The fire is representative of God. It was fire that Moses encountered in the desert; it’s a pillar of fire that leads them at night. The fire of the Altar also symbolizes the presence and work of Jehovah in their midst. Because of that, the command is that it never be allowed to go out. The application is pretty easy to understand and not so easy to apply. I want the fire of God’s presence in my life to burn freely – and, like that of the burning bush: never go out. It was the work of those who tended to the Tent of Meeting to assure the perpetuity of the flame, and it’s my responsibility to keep that flame burning in my life. I pray, read the Word, and live in fellowship with God and his people. In the midst of my busyness, this is my priority. The fire of God must keep burning.
Take Away: God’s fire in my life must be tended and never taken for granted.
Exodus 3: The bush was blazing away but it didn’t burn up.
I love the story of Moses’ encounter with the Lord. He’s spent 40 years living apart from his own people, tending sheep. The idea of running into God out there in the wilderness must be the farthest thing from his mind. He sees smoke on the horizon and goes to investigate. As he gets closer he sees that it’s just a lonely bush that’s ablaze. The thing is, the fire isn’t consuming the bush and has a source of fuel that Moses can’t see. He’s about to find out that the bush is ablaze with the presence of the Lord. I doubt that Moses thought about it, but that bush is doing the very opposite of what he did. When he was younger he burned with compassion for his enslaved kin. However, these years in the wilderness have quenched that fire. Unlike the bush that keeps on burning, he settled for a life in exile, leaving his fellow Hebrews in slavery in Egypt. When I act on my own, doing what I think is a good idea, I tend to run out of energy. After all, I’m drawing on my talents and abilities and it doesn’t take long for me to run dry. However, when I live in the Lord and allow his Holy Spirit to be my Guide and my Source, well, I’ve tapped into the Power Source that’s never exhausted. Lord, let the fire of your Presence burn in my heart today.
Take Away: If I’m going to be used of God I need to allow him to be my power source, otherwise I’m bound to fail.