Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hell Fire or Healing Fire?

Fire. There is so much surrounding this one, four-letter word! Immediately I think of flames, lapping in a fireplace, wood crackling, and that wonderful smell! What are the purposes for fire, though? I'm just going to list the few that come to mind: heat/warmth, cooking, destroying, melting, softening metal, purifying metal, ridding waste, light, etc, etc.. and the list goes on!

There are so many spiritual implications that are shouldered on the word "fire" and the idea of burning, melting, destroying, etc. I think most often, in religious circles, fire is spoken of in context of hell and eternal damnation. The fire is where a sinner will burn forever. The mental picture is torturous and terrifying! Some fundamental evangelists will use the "fear-factor" of the lake of fire to frighten people into a "saving relationship" with Jesus Christ. I have to admit that this tactic is like tiny needles digging under my fingernails. (If I'm being very honest!) I simply do not agree with frightening people into a love relationship with their Savior. Now, don't misunderstand me. I absolutely believe that Hell is a real place, and it will be horrific for those who are not covered in the blood of Christ. However, I believe that evangelism should not stem solely from a fear of burning for eternity! (I digress) My initial point is not to discuss methods of evangelism, but instead to focus on the first view of spiritual fire: destruction.

Let's consider the source of destructive fire. It is directly coupled with the stealer of life and bringer of death: Satan. It dwells in his living space and is the main decor for his home. He uses it to swallow whole those who are not a part of the family of God. It is a fire that is never-ending.  It sucks the life out of all who come in contact with it. The place with the vastest amount of this fire is of course in Hell. However, I do believe that we can experience tastes of these flames here on Earth as well. The only way that you can possibly survive is to have a shield of protection around you! (aka Christ's blood) This fire can completely destroy someone if they are not nestled tightly in the wing of the Almighty. It does not produce beneficial results. It only brings destruction.

The second type of spiritually implicated fire is Healing fire. Again, I love a good oxymoron. Fire is probably the furthest thing from a healing source than you could ever imagine. However, that is what makes my mind and heart so sure that it is another beautiful tool that the Lord uses for our purification and redemption! Scripture uses many references to this type of fire, in several different methods. It speaks of the "refining fire", which is the same process that fine metals, such as gold, go through to separate the pure from the impure. Basically, the metal is melted, and the impurities rise to the top to be scraped off and removed from the remaining metal. The process is tedious, and much must be removed in order for a pure result to be established. When this analogy is applied to our human hearts, we can see how this would be difficult to be completely broken down in order for the impurities to be removed, but oh, it is worth it for the end result!

The scriptures also speak of the fiery trials that we, at times, walk through. These can be any sort of things: illness, death, family hurt, grievances, destitution, poverty, etc. This is the reason I was stimulated to post something about fire in the first place. I see, daily, people walking through various fires, and it is painfully evident when people are not protected through the flames or when they do not understand that they are not alone as they trudge through. It is also abundantly clear when others are so fervently focused on their Savior that they feel no mal-effects of the fire, even as they are in the midst. They, of course, still feel the pain of the moment, but they are far more sure of the redemption that is about to follow! A dear friend of mine has been faithful to remind me at least once or twice a week that "God redeems whatever He allows". Through the fire that I have been allowed to walk through over the last several months, I have been entirely unable to deny the fact that the Lord is walking with me through it. He is not simply ahead of me or behind me, unattached and separate... He is directly beside me. Completely, wholly, with me. And I know that on the other side, He will redeem all that He has allowed in this fire. I do not begin to pretend that it has been easy or that I have not doubted and had many experiences of falling on my face, feeling utterly hopeless. I am simply grateful that my Father has been faithful to send messengers of hope and reminders of His presence when I am too weak and too angry to see it. You see, believing and trusting that the Lord is sovereign does not mean that it is easy or fun! It simply means that you have a rock to grasp onto tightly when there is nothing else solid in your sights! I know that although I have experienced suffering and have not always handled it well, the Lord does not love me based on performance or my response! He loves me based on His Love! That's it! ahh.. so amazing!

I love the fact that Scripture does not tell us that we will not walk through these fires; it does tell us, though, that we will not walk through them alone! In Isaiah, God comforts us and tells us that when we walk through the fire, we will not be burned, and the flames will not consume us. He tells us not to fear. He says He will walk with us and hold us by His righteous right hand. How beautiful! What a process of furthering faith and establishing strength it is to be so dependent on holding tightly to the hand of our Father as we walk through these fires. He will NEVER leave or forsake His children. He does not promise a perfect existance and abscence of trouble, but He does promise that we will never walk alone! Ahhhh... what comfort! The beauty of the fire lies in the moment, on the other side of the fire, when we can turn around and see all that is left in the ashes behind us. Our protector does not allow the impurities to follow us out of the flames. The sin and filth of this earth remain behind in the ashes. What is left is strength, surety, faith, hope, and an everlasting handprint on our palm where the God of the universe held on so tightly and brought us through.

So, consider this: destructive fire contains the same properties as healing fire, but the purpose and result could not be more opposite. How is it then that we fear one and welcome the other? I think upon further speculation, we see that they both initially present the same: traumatic event, pain, suffering. But praise God that the result is so different. One results in death, and the other results in life! Let us not fear the flame or the pain. Let us welcome them! Turn around and see the ashes that are left behind. They do not define you; they are a symbol that God refines you! Because regardless what fire it is that we find ourselves in the midst of, we can know that we are protected and that it will leave us refined, strengthened, and beautiful!

Let this be the year of the Lord's favor! Let beauty be your defining characteristic! Allow the Lord to rebuild all that has been destroyed in the years past. Bring on the Fire, Lord! Let me have it!

"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins;
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations."
Isaiah 61:1-4

Friday, January 1, 2010

Apostate or Apostle?

The term "apostacy" is a fairly new one in my vocabulary.(apostacy: the state of having rejected your religious beliefs or a cause (often in favor of opposing beliefs or causes); the act of abandoning a party for cause)

 In my Bible Study, my friends and I have been trudging through the book of Hebrews, and the subject is projected very boldly in the early chapters of the book. There are so many references to the "disobedient" or the "hardened hearts" or those who have turned away, etc. Through the first several chapters, I have felt a little uneasy about the reference to those who will not inherit the promised land because of their disobedience. However, in chapter 6, I reached a point of intense turmoil in my soul!

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace."- Hebrews 6:4-6

I was completely floored when I read this passage! In my complete understanding of the whole of scripture, I do not feel that this acurately expresses the character of God. God is a gracious, forgiving, loving God, right? He sent his son to die for the disobedient and the sinners, right? Right!! So, how is this  passage possible or relevant?

I am learning that this is not inconsistant with God's character at all. It is in fact very much consistant! He is a loving and gracious God. BUT He is also a jealous God! His only request of us is for us to believe in the one who was sent. To deny all other gods. To set Himself as the focus of our lives. If we do this, we WILL taste the goodness of Him and experience the fullness of a relationship with Him. So, how does this work? If we have commited ourselves to Him, and have welcomed the presence of Christ into our hearts, then we are saved. So then, can we lose this salvation??

This is where the concept of "apostacy" comes in. The COMPLETE turning away from a relationship with God. Not a "professed" relationship or a false religious experience, etc. Not just small actions of disobedience or rebellion. This is speaking of a complete and utter denial of the presence of God in your life and discarding the possibility of having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

This passage cause anxiety for me on several levels though. As my friends and family know, I was raised with a solid foundation of scripture, and I have experienced a love relationship with my Heavenly Father from a young age. There was a time, as a result of pain and suffering in my family, that I did have a period of intense rebellion where I verbally denied the very presence of God in my life. Now, I have to admit, that I did continue to know in my heart the truth that God continued to love and protect me even during this time, and as I look back now, years later, I am overwhelmed with God's mercy and protection during that time! It is not the righteous He came to save... He came to save the sinners! (Romans 5:8)

Therefore, what does it take to be a true apostate? As I stated above, a complete turning away! As I ponder this, I think it should not cause, as it has in me, anxiety. However, I do believe that it absolutely should cause us to fear God! I think so often we take our salvation and the intensity of what Christ did on the Cross for granted. We sin with the knowledge that God is a forgiving and loving God. We sin believing that the all-consuming Grace that God gives us will negate our responsibility for our actions. How foolish!! I have to admit that I am like an ungrateful child more often than not. I carry on in my day-to-day and do not realize the sacrifice that was given so that I CAN live! Oh, how I WISH I could keep in my sights the delicate balance between believing that Salvation is only by Grace through Faith and also on my responsibility to live a life that glorifies God.

I desire to be an Apostle. (apostle: a person who carries out the mission of Christ in proclaiming the work of Him) I desire for my life to have the purpose of proclaiming the work of Christ on the Cross and His salvation of sinners, such as myself. I desire for my life to be one that glorifies Him. Lord, let me be guarded from the posibility of becoming an apostate. Lord, protect my heart and my mind from the lies of this generation, but rather to be an apostle to those who do not know you.