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Purification Adds by Taking Away

12 Dec

By simple definition purification indicates the existence of something of value contaminated by impurities. Removing those impurities makes the valuable material purer and thus more valuable. Here is where the fires of destruction and judgment can be part of the purification process. When discussing precious metals, we think of those fires as the beginning cleaning steps. When we speak of peoples’ lives, we may remember testimonies of rough characters experiencing a complete turn-around: a drunk suddenly sober without detoxification, a drug addict clean without going through withdrawals, or the profane no longer swearing. All of which are wonderful, but then the Holy Spirit begins a deeper work to remove the remaining dross of wrong attitudes, lack of love, or perhaps hidden lust. The fires of purification do the finer work.

Let me state the obvious again: no fire is pleasant to go through. But in Fire that destroys the bad is a good thing, right? I explained destructive fire can have a huge benefit. The fire of judgment as explained in Baptism of Fire Type 2 separates what we think is right from what is truly right. Purifying fire takes what has been accomplished in the first two and takes the process a step further.

Sometimes we think we should be beyond the need of the fire. We tire of the struggles we face and long for a trouble-free path before us. I understand the complaining Israel did while walking around the same mountain for forty years. When I face a different version of the same struggle, I ask the Lord to help me get it right—once and for all. When that happens, the fire of purification must become hotter in order to bring up the deep-seated dross in our hearts.

King David wrote in Psalms 12:6 “The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (NKJV). I love the imagery in this verse. We are God’s earthen vessels. He puts his pure Word in us and then proceeds to purify it in our lives. A story I heard years ago explains why the silver is said it’s heated seven times and how to know it’s pure. A person asked a silversmith how he purifies his silver. He heats it time and again, skimming off the impurities that rise and float on the surface. He knows the silver is pure when he can see his reflection on the surface of the silver. God is after that in us. Pretty awesome, huh?

Another real-life parallel involves a practice by some farmers and park districts. You may have seen black clouds of smoke in the distance and wonder what is on fire. If no news station carries a fire report, the fire most likely is a controlled burn. A field is set ablaze and allowed to burn out for two major benefits. 1) The fire cleanses the field of unwanted growth and seeds. And 2) The ash acts as a fertilizer to enrich the soil so a better crop or ground cover can be grown next season.

Likewise, when we go through the fire of purification, the dross—or unwanted growth, choking weeds of our lives—gets removed. But Jesus does not end his work there. He draws closer to us, rewards us with more of himself, and strengthens our faith as we allow his work in our hearts.

The fire of purification is a deeper cleaning fire. Hebrews 12:11 reminds us that “no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (NKJV). As we endure and are exercised by it, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness, we are told. While it can look a lot like destruction and judgment, the fire of purification holds a greater hope and wonder, making it a category of its own. I think the David must have understood this.

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Baptism of Fire Type 2

5 Dec

Can I ask you how many types fires are mentioned in the Bible, specifically God’s fires with divine purpose? This excludes references to camp or cooking fires or lighting a lamp. I’ve identified seven, and I believe each of them are parts of the Lord’s promised baptism of fire. Now, look at your list (if you wrote them down). Where did the fires of judgment place?

I’m going to guess that many if not most thought of it first. There’s good reason for that. God has said an all-consuming fire will destroy the earth in his final judgment. Peter described it with great imagery. John wrote in Revelation three times that Satan, his demons and lost souls will be cast into the lake of fire. Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God” depicts man as a spider held by its thread over a fire. Evangelists over the centuries often employed such word pictures to scare people into Christianity.

We must not fear the fire John the Baptist prophesied. The promised baptism of fire from Jesus is for our good. Don’t lose hold of that fact—even when the fire includes judgment.

Several years ago, a friend of mine and I built me a garage. We did all the necessary paperwork with the city (plans, permits, inspections, etc.). In spite of the care we exercised, one extra measurement to doublecheck our work got skipped. As a result, the foundation was one-half inch out of square. We had two choices: tear out the concrete foundation or try to adjust as we went along. I chose the least costly approach, but that half inch niggled us through the entire structure, even to the last shingle.

Apostle Paul used a construction analogy in a letter to the Corinthian church. He drew a parallel to individual believers building Jesus into their lives and also corporately building up the Church.

1 Corinthians 3:9-15 “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

Before I jump into the fiery judgment aspect, first note the foundation is perfect. No one can add to it. We can’t add a wing for our spiritual mancave. What we build must be on the foundation—no cantilevers allowed, either. We build upon (upward on) our foundation Jesus.

The building materials we use will have to go through the fire. Gold, silver, and precious stones refer to God’s righteousness, truth, love, grace, and mercy in all their forms including the Law and the prophets. The wood, hay, and straw (or stubble as some translations have it) are what we add and allow in our own tendency to err. Jesus spoke of them to the Pharisees as traditions of men. Peter mentioned them as private interpretations. In short, human imaginations that fulfill natural wants. New churches continue to be created over them, further dividing the Church.

Paul wrote this letter to end the schisms starting in the church in Corinth. Verses 12 and 13 above spoke as a clarion, warning them of the direction they were heading. Their work will be judged. I think most look at these verses—at least I know I have—and think this fire will test our work at the judgment seat. However, I believe now the Church in the last days will experience this as part of the baptism Jesus gives to his Church. The corporate man in the last days will not be deformed by the whims of men. It will stand erect as a true representation of Jesus to the world. We will see this more clearly as we examine the overlap with the fire of purification.

Fire that destroys the bad is a good thing, right?

28 Nov

I believe there is a coming baptism of fire for the Church. There. I’ve said it. If you have been following my blogs—especially the last few, you might have already guessed that. And for me to understand it better, I looked in the Old Testament for how fire was used by the Lord. My search uncovered a progression of fires leading up to the main event, so I hope you will stay with me as I take you through each step I found.

First, fire destroys. I know, over simplification. However, it is important that we consider this aspect of fire in the Scripture. And realize, too, destructive fire differs from the fire of judgment or purification. At times they overlap, but as we apply it to our daily lives, we can understand how much one is separate from the other.

Destructive fire is something we know all too well. The news often carries stories about home or apartment buildings making families homeless or taking lives. Forest fires must destroy thousands of acres and still be raging out of control before national news reports on them. God’s use of destructive fires, however, deserves pause for consideration.

For today’s blog, Daniel chapter three provides the best imagery of destructive fire in our lives. It’s the story of Daniel’s three Hebrew friends who were bound and cast into a furnace because they refused to bow to the king’s idol. The fire burned so hot that those who forced them on their way died. Yet, after fire cooled enough, King Nebuchadnezzar drew close to look in. He saw the three walking around unbound (he noted) with a fourth man whom he described as looking like the son of God.

The narrative goes on to explain that, when the king ordered them out, their clothes didn’t even smell of smoke. The fire destroyed only what had them bound.

Fiery trials are never fun, but I’ve learned they can be my friend. First note that we are never alone in them. It may seem like the opposite is true. Sometimes prayers feel like they hit the ceiling and crash in broken pieces around our feet. We want to see an immediate answer, but the flames burn higher and hotter.

Instead of pleading for escape, I’ve learned to ask God to use them to destroy anything in my life that has me bound. Anything that keeps me from being who he has created me to be. Those things that hinder me from doing or experiencing what he has designed for me. To be a better expression of Jesus to the world around me, I need to have some things in my life destroyed. I will be better off without them, and greater things happen when my goals line up with his purposes for me.

Self-determination and wanting things our way has brought much division in the Church. A baptism of fire is coming to burn this away so that once again we can be part of one body, a standard he can lift up as a light in the world.

Fire in God’s Hands

21 Nov

Durian fruit pods are inside this cuckleburr-ish shell.

When my wife Cindy and I were in the Philippines, we experienced many new things. Our host delighted in introducing exotic activities and tastes for us to try. Sometimes, perhaps, with a tinge of mischief. Durian fruit is a case in point. He told us the Koreans have a saying: “Smell it, go to hell; eat it, go to heaven.” Standing near it with its odor assaulting our senses (by the way, most of my sense of smell left me long ago, but I could still smell it.), verified the first part of the Korean maxim.

Cindy likened it to a baby’s messy diapers. I say that didn’t give it enough credit. But, wanting to accept the culture we were in, she took a bite…and immediately spit it back out. Our host and those around all laughed. They looked at me and saw that I had finished mine. I had survived my “baptism of fire” from them. They asked if I was part Filipino.

I learned in my experience that IF a person can get past the smell and also get past the sense of chewing a raw oyster or snail, a sweet nut flavor aftertaste almost makes the effort worth taking.

The pleasant aftertaste makes my point. The writer of Hebrews said of Jesus that “for the joy set before him, he endured the cross.” As God, Jesus could look forward to thousands of generations of souls who would be able to share his kingdom and glory because he spent a few hours suffering torture followed by crucifixion and death. He had already declared to his disciples that the angels in heaven rejoice when one sinner repents. Imagine what that celebration multiplied by hundreds of millions over thousands of years must have looked like to him.

But that doesn’t mean he took that baptism he had to go through lightly. As the man Jesus, he suffered such anguish at the thought of it he sweat blood. I’ve gone through some tough times of my own and still in some. I’ve been crushed by the circumstances to the point of nearly walking away from faith in Christ. But I’ve never sweat blood. I can’t imagine the torment he wrestled with but accepted it because of the joy set before him—his aftertaste.

Life’s pressures often get labeled as fiery trials or going through the fire. As we allow Jesus to teach us and perfect us through them, they can become a fire in his hands for us. In other countries Christians are truly going through the fire, being persecuted, tortured and killed. In America we struggle to keep it from happening here. However, I believe a baptism of fire awaits the whole Church. Kindled by Jesus it, will climax with the fire of God’s glory filling the Church (every true believer) as it did the Tabernacle in Moses’s time. For the next few weeks, I will be looking at the use of fire in the Old Testament and how it can be a type of fire we believers are called to go through. With each one I believe we will experience the sweet aftertaste. One that will strengthen us to willingly go through that baptism of fire and ask for more.

A Kindled Fire, But Not Burning UP

14 Nov

Luke 12: 49-50
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!

Was Jesus really wanting to fast forward to the end of history where all of creation is plunged into eternity? Last week’s blog gave a quick overview of the question and concluded: maybe. However, he knew the Father had a plan in place to increase the glory of the kingdom through the Son’s obedience and the Father’s patience. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, speaking of Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Ever since Jesus agreed to hold back on judgment’s fire, you, me, and all who have come to a place of forgiveness, mercy, and grace comprise that joy set before him.

But what about the other possible fire Jesus wanted to release? A fire that had to be held back until Jesus experienced the baptism he had to undergo (his death, burial, and resurrection). I see a likeness to King David (the man after God’s own heart). David had a burning desire to build a temple for God’s house. God refused to let him, but assigned it to David’s son. Jesus seemed to be saying he wished he could see—while he was yet alive—the new temple made by God without the hands of men (the Church) that would be birthed after Jesus’s final baptism.

Many interpret John the Baptist’s prophesy that Jesus would baptize in the spirit and fire as being fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. On that day, while the disciples were hidden in a room, the Holy Spirit came in like cloven tongues of fire lighting on the heads of each one in the room. They began speaking in other languages. Spilling out into the street, they faced a crowd of people who had begun to gather there. Thousands were added to the newly birthed Church that day.

I say such understanding cuts short what really happened. Each believer became filled with a multi-purpose fire of God. Consider examples recorded elsewhere throughout the Bible.

1. Genesis 1:1-4 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” So, too, we lived in the darkness of sin, stumbling through life until we turn our hearts to the Lord. Jesus—who said he is the life and the light—and he fills us with his light.

2. Exodus 3:2-3 The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush;

from:bible-lessons-for-kids.blogspot.com

and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” Because of the light placed within us—the fire of God’s glory and the awesome grace given to us—we should become a curiosity. People should be able to see the fire that burns within and doesn’t consume us.

3. Exodus 10:21-23 “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even a darkness which may be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the sons of Israel had light in their dwellings.” Where the Lord is, there is light.

4. Revelation 21:23 “And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.” I can’t add a thing.

Jesus kindled the fire on Pentecost in his Church. Each believer. And they went from there to turn the world upside down. What has happened to that fire today? What can we expect? What did I mean by muti-purpose fire? I will get into these and other questions in following posts.

What does “being on fire for the Lord” suggest to you? I would love to hear your thoughts, too.

Be sure to click on the link to follow this blog so you don’t miss the rest of this.

What did Jesus wish?

7 Nov

“I have come to cast fire on the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49 NASB) Taken by themselves, those words Jesus spoke sound radical or at least uncharacteristic coming from him. I paused my reading in Luke to consider them. I concluded they were both fearsome and glorious. And in the end, glorious beyond imagination.

On the fearsome side of the picture, I see the judgment that is to come. In Noah’s day, God destroyed the wickedness on the earth with a flood. He promised Noah never to destroy earth in that manner again. However, later prophets and the Apostles described the fearsome day of the Lord—his final judgment on earth—as an all-consuming fire. Peter said even the stars would fall from the sky because of the intense heat.

Could this be what Jesus was thinking about? John the Baptist did say Jesus would baptize in the Spirit and fire (emphasis mine). Jesus hated the effects of sin in his world. Hearts darkened with greed, lust, envy, murder. Bodies distorted and weakened by disease, depression, and all forms of oppression. He came to end it. Did he really wish he could start the great fire right then?

He went on to say, “But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!” Jesus had all authority, but at the same time he was under authority. His Father had other plans.

First, the Father had a way to end the effect of sin on an individual basis. That required his Son paying off mankind’s debt caused by breaking God’s law. Jesus undoubtedly referred to that when he spoke of a baptism he had to undergo—obedience unto suffering and death. The Father constrained Jesus to fulfill the needed sacrifice and to withhold the judgment that is to come.

Second, the Father planned to build a dwelling place among the redeemed, creating a corporate man called the Church, indwelling the hearts of his people instead of a building. With it, he would establish his kingdom, filling the world with the light of his glory and adding many sons and daughters into family.

Third, at his appointed time, God will bring a complete end to all suffering and darkness with fire. This is the fearsome fire.

In history we are somewhere in the second step of God’s plan and moving ever closer to the final step. Many in the world would say they don’t see the light of God’s glory in the church. To them, church looks like the rest of the world but just going through life with a different set of rules. So, what and where is this fire Jesus wanted to kindle?

I will begin to share what I see in my next blogs. Stay tuned. It may not be what you think.

If you want to be sure to see the unfolding of my thoughts on this verse, click on the link on the right to receive a notice of my blog in your email. Thanks.

Contrasts Sharpen Vision

31 Oct

Juxtaposition. For the grammarians and English majors among us, you know that word. You recognize it for its value in making strong points and deepening concepts. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect. The pictures show how contrast in photography has a similar effect. Finding this writing style used by the Lord triggered my imagination.

Toward the end of Matthew 19, Jesus takes a child onto his lap and says anyone who wants to enter his Father’s kingdom must come as a little child. His closest disciples had heard this principle not long before. (the beginning of Matthew 18 for inquisitive readers) They evidently missed its application when they began holding the children back from Jesus while he was ministering. He gave a gentle rebuke and told them again—let the children come for such is the kingdom.

What happened immediately after in Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s accounts is the juxtaposition I am talking about. A rich young ruler stepped up and asked Jesus what he needed to do to receive eternal life. Could you get any more opposite? Well, it does.

Jesus tells him to obey God’s commands.

The man asks which ones.

Jesus recites a few.

The man says he does all of those so what’s lacking.

Jesus tells him if he wants to be perfect, he must sell all he has and distribute all the money to the poor.

At that point the man turns away sad.

We are not given the internal conversation the man had before turning away, but I imagine it being a little bit like Naaman in the Old Testament. When Naaman was told through an understudy of the great prophet what he must do to be healed of leprosy, he let loose with an epic temper tantrum. Couldn’t the prophet show proper respect to him and deliver the message himself? How will washing make any difference? Why must it be in the dirty Jordan when there are cleaner rivers back home?

Lucky (not really luck) for Naaman, he had a servant who could wisely appeal to him to obey the prophet’s word. Through that obedience, he was healed.

I can hear the rich young ruler wrestling with similar thoughts. Really? If he can’t find any failure in my obedience, he has to make up something to catch me on? Sell all my goods and give it away? Doesn’t he know my influence could greatly help his ministry? I expected he would suggest ways to build on the foundation I’ve already laid. Yes! That’s it! I should grow from where I am, not a lower place.

He didn’t have anyone at his side to remind him he must come as a little child to enter God’s kingdom.

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