Close to the Fire

fire-173072The Pogo comic strip appeared in the1970’s featuring a possum and an alligator. It’s most famous quote was, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I have faced many enemies: the pitcher who wanted to strike me out in grade school, the young man who tried to steal my girl in college, the boss who cut me down behind my back. Then there is the continuing lure of the flesh, the snare of unforgiveness. The most dangerous enemy I will face is me: my beliefs and my thinking. “I’m a failure. I’m worthless.” My mind wants to go back to what is known even if it is destructive. I know how to eat right but do I do it? I know I should drive the speed limit, but… It is mind renewal that produces change. Mind renewal is like learning to drive. It’s overwhelming at first: brakes, accelerator, mirrors, traffic. Oh My! But eventually driving became natural.

When I first came to God, I had a closet full of worldly attitudes, misguided beliefs and negative thoughts toward myself. I was born again but there was still that closet. The nation of Israel left Egypt in body but not in mind. That kept them from entering the Promised Land. We each face a lifelong process of going back to that closet and attacking another shelf. Who holds the keys to my closet? I do.

Jeremiah 12:5 (NIV) warns, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” Am I ready for the next level or do I want promotion without the process? Bishop TD Jakes says, “If I learn to do great things in a small place, I will be ready for greater things.” I am not ready for promotion without practice. Without the rehearsal, I will not see recognition in the performance. Without the practice, game day will be a flop. Yes, practice is boring. Yes, it is painful, but I must be patient with the process. If I compromise on the practice, come game day I will still look great in my uniform until I step out on the field and have to face an opponent. In case of fire, we are told don’t take the elevator. God wants a fire in my life. There is no elevator to my destiny. I must take the steps.

A few years ago while camping with our men’s small group I participated in what came to be known as the skunk dance. We were all seated around the campfire when one man gave a startled yell, “Look!” Down the trail toward the campfire came a very large skunk. We all jumped up and huddled on the opposite side of the fire. The skunk started around the fire one direction and we all shuffled to keep the fire between him and us. He turned and went the other way and we shuffled the opposite. This went on for a couple of iterations before he got bored and ambled back up the trail. The fire of God’s presence keeps the devil away. The devil is seeking whom he may devour (1Peter 5:8). We will not be counted in that category if we keep the fire between us and the devil.

Suppose a couple of minutes earlier I had excused myself to go down that trail to the restroom. I might have come back with a whole lot of stink on me. James 4:7 (ESV) says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” If I try to resist the devil on my own, he has no obligation to flee. It is when I come close to the fire of God’s presence in submission that I can stand against the devil’s attacks.

Fire signifies the presence of God. The pillar of fire led the Israelites (Exodus 13). Fire came down to consume Elijah’s sacrifice at Mt. Carmel (1Kings 18). Tongues of fire descended on the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2). The fire is not just words on a page in a book we call the Bible. It is the living Word written on our hearts. The fire is the Holy Spirit that leads us and guides us into all truth (John 16:13).

Ever experienced being handcuffed? Daniel 3 tells the story of three young Jewish men who were handcuffed and thrown into a furnace for not bowing down in worship to the king’s statue. What burned off? The ropes, the bondage. Isaiah 43:2b (NIV) promises, “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” What will burn in that fire? The bondage, the addictions, the guilt.

One of the most repulsive insects I have encountered is the tick. Thinking about them makes my skin crawl. In grade school I had a pet dog names Butch. He loved to roam through the woods near our home but he would come back infested with ticks. Those little suckers (literally) would swell up to the size of a dime. Is my soul burdened with ticks of anger, unforgiveness, lust or greed sucking the life blood out of me? Do you think those ticks can stand the fire of the Holy Spirit? I don’t think so!

Without glasses I don’t see a clear picture. I want to see myself through God’s glasses. The prodigal son was unable to forgive himself thinking, “I’m not worthy, I will just be a slave.” The father wouldn’t even listen to him. My worth is not based on my performance. Others may look at me that way, even those in the church may look down at me, but my worth is based on my relationship with the Father.

In order to grow spiritually I must understand who I am in Christ. It was by His mercy that my sins are forgiven and more than that I have received His righteousness. As I understand that, I will gradually do more things right. God has put a seed in me, a seed of patience, a seed of integrity, a seed of love. Now my job is to nurture that seed so it will grow strong. Inside an acorn is everything needed for a tree. It may just look like a nut but it is in there. I don’t need people who look at me and say, “He’s a nut!” I need people who will see the tree inside, the potential inside, the destiny inside and celebrate it.

I have downloaded music to my phone. It’s in there but I must take certain steps to get it to come out. God has downloaded His character into me. I am patient. I may not act very patient but I have it inside me. I just need to learn to let it out.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is in me. I have the ability. In 2Corinthinas 12:9 (NIV), God tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” His grace empowers me.

Paul tells us to “press toward the prize.” (Philippians 3:14) Why does he say “press”? Because there will be resistance. I need to push against the pressure to go back. I am forgiven. I need to confess that; speak it out. Revelations 12:11 says, “They triumphed over him (the devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” Our two year old grandson is just learning to talk and his mother frequently reminds him, “use your words.” I need to use my words to enforce the victory.

Growing up I was taught not to talk back to my elders. Now the devil is older than me, but it is OK for me to talk back to the devil. I may not feel righteous; I may not feel victorious; I may not feel loved. Will I believe my feelings or believe the truth? I can’t wave a magic wand over you and make all those feelings go away. It takes a change of thinking.

Philippians 2:12 (NIV): “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” What will you do after you read this? Paul tells me to work out my salvation. (Note: that is not work FOR salvation, but it will take work to see the salvation that is in me to start showing up on the outside.) Keep at it. I can develop muscles through daily weight training. How quickly will I lose them if instead of exercising I lie on the sofa all day munching on chips? Vs. 13 tells us this happens by God’s power not mine. I can’t change myself.

Ephesians 1:4 (NIV) declares, “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.” Holiness comes from my position in Christ, my identity in Him. From knowing my identity comes a desire to live right. Religion will say, “Better clean up your act, mister. God is really mad at you.” Relationship says, “Come close to the fire.”

From age 22 to about 45, I suffered from migraine headaches. They got progressively worse until I had them almost every day. I learned about God’s healing power and began to cry out to Him, “God, please heal me. Please take these away.” But nothing happened. Finally I said, “OK, God. If you want me to have these, I accept that. I just want to worship you; I want to come close to you.” A few weeks later I stopped and realized I hadn’t had a migraine in over two weeks. The fire of His presence had done its work.

The fire of God’s presence produces change. God is not interested in your quitting drugs; He is interested in your getting close to the fire.  God is not asking you to stop sleeping around; He is asking you to get close to the fire. God doesn’t care if you throw out the pornography; He wants you to get close to the fire. God is not looking for you to become more humble, more loving or more forgiving: He is looking for you to get close to the fire. He is not so much concerned with our actions as He is with seeing a change of heart. If you feel drawn back to alcohol what is the problem? What is the solution? You have pulled back from the fire and you need to again draw close. You don’t need to try to change; you just need to get close to the fire.

There are those reading this today who struggle with addiction to alcohol, to meth, to coke. God is not expecting you to change. He is calling you to get close to the fire. The fire will bring about the change. The fire will burn out addictions. The fire will restore relationships. The fire will produce the transformation we each need. Do you want your life to be better? It won’t happen by just trying harder. It will happen when you come close to the fire! Worship Him. Seek His presence. Our goal is obedience. Our goal is the walk with Him. That will happen when we come close to the fire.