Prescribed Fire

 

 

Walking through my favorite park on a recent afternoon I happened on a large swath of forest charred black as far as I could see.

The air smelled of soot. Stretched before me was torched earth, pine tree bark blackened a few feet up trunks, limbs clinging to singed leaves.

This was no wildfire accident. The burned area was bordered by green grass, the evidence of fire only within that boundary.

Clearly, park rangers had intentionally set fire to the woods. The parched ground stood in stark contrast to the lush green woods along surrounding paths where a tangle of kudzu-like vines smothered many trees and pine needles and undergrowth carpeted the forest floor.

Ground cleared to rocks and roots stood waiting to be reborn as if saying, “Now, I am ready for the next thing.”

I read that fire management experts practice something called “prescribed burning” which “may be defined as fire applied in a knowledgeable manner to wildland fuels on a specific land area under selected weather conditions to accomplish predetermined, well-defined management objectives.”

Don’t miss that: Applied in a knowledgeable way, to accomplish predetermined, well-defined objectives.

Gazing into those smoke-scented woods, I realized this principle from the natural world of forest management has a spiritual application.

There are no random fires in God’s kingdom. Our all-knowing God has good plans for us. He sits as king eternal and manages our lives in sovereignty. Sometimes He lets a fire purposely burn through our lives.

Things get hot, go up in smoke; and we are left with ashes. It seems the flames will destroy everything meaningful and dear: our health, our hopes, our relationships, the futures we had planned.  But God-ordained fire is always controlled. Not everything is lost.

Those who trust Jesus Christ are promised: “a crown of beauty instead of ashes.” How can that be?

The power of fire is that it destroys but it also regenerates. Heat and pressure are a catalyst for new growth, releasing new seeds into the nutrients left behind. From the ashes a new forest develops. Our lives can get cluttered with things that retard our growth. Fire has a way of making space.

In the Bible, fire is a method of purification, a tool of judgment (Ezekiel 28:18) and a means of testing the value of our work. Fire also symbolizes the presence of God Himself. God stood sentry in the pillar of fire by night as Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt.

The park fire opened a formerly dark patch of wood to penetrating light by eradicating well-established, honeysuckle, poison oak and other vines by literally consuming their roots. In this same way, God’s fire incinerates entrenched habits, mindsets and entanglements that keep Christ-followers from being salt and light.

The aftermath of a controlled fire looks bad, but the burning ultimately can accomplish a great good. Our God “is a consuming fire” (Deu 4:24) cleansing our hearts to make us more holy, in the likeness of Christ, and more fruitful in His service.

“Everyone will be salted with fire.” Mark 9:49

Good news!

good friday

I woke up Good Friday morning thinking: What’s “good” about it?

After all, it’s the point in Holy Week when the hero dies.

Jesus is beaten, bloodied and finally nailed to a Roman cross. Crucifixion: an excruciatingly torturous form of public execution meant to deter criminal opposition to the state.

Jesus, who is innocent of wrongdoing, submits to this horrendous death. This is the same Jesus who healed blind men, lepers, paralytics and raised the dead, even Lazarus who had been in a tomb 4 days and had begun to stink!

Jesus’s followers were counting on Him to save the world. Instead, He hung on that cross until He died. Some onlookers remarked, “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself.” (Matthew 27:42)

How can this be “good”?

It’s not the end of the story.

Good Friday presents Jesus, the baby in a manager in Bethlehem, fully grown and identified by John the Baptist as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), actually becoming that atoning sacrifice. When Jesus says from the cross “It is finished” (John 19:30) it means something like: “Mission Accomplished.”

What was Jesus’s mission?

Scripture teaches that while the wages of sin is death, God’s gift is eternal life in Christ.  “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of death is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Cor 15:56-57)

Good Friday is Jesus accepting the death penalty in our place. Those who accept His sacrifice on our behalf are completely forgiven. We receive life that never ends, restored fellowship with God, our creator. We are no longer slaves to sin or the fear of punishment that comes with it.

Hebrews 12:2 says of Jesus, “for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].” (Amplified)

Holy Week builds to the cross of Good Friday after which things go quiet and still. Then comes Resurrection Sunday. Boom! Jesus gets up from the grave demonstrating that He is exactly who declares Himself to be: the resurrection and the life. (John 11:25)

Jesus Christ is the real deal. He took the worst punishment the world could dish out, and He conquered so that we can be more than conquerors. That is good news!

 Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Escape Sin’s Paradox

a-universal-paradox

I am ever learning but never coming to know the truth.

I am sampling all the world has to offer but am empty still.

I am ever seeking new experiences but never finding joy.

I am free to do what I please and enslaved by my own choices.

I am the constant critic who is blind to my own shortcomings.

I am the instigator of wrongdoing and the accuser once the deed is done.

What am I?

I am “the paradox of sin.”

I am pleasure and punishment rolled into one.

Sin is pleasurable for a season. When the season passes, sin’s beauty is ravaged; and we are left with its ugly reality.

We’ve all had our conversations with sin, heeded its voice and inevitably encountered its diabolical duality.

Sin promises freedom but everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

Sin twists our desires, compels us to seek fulfillment in self-destructive ways. Sin drives us to run after a nameless something that is always beyond our grasp.

When I survey the landscape of my own soul, I see sin’s stillbirths: dead hopes, dead dreams and dead relationships. Eventually sin turns on us, confronts us with our guilt, reminds us of how we’ve failed, whispers that we deserve to die.

In truth, we’re all sinners. The wages of sin is death. There is none righteous, not even one.

Yet, death was never God’s plan.

Man was created in God’s image, an eternal soul with free will, freedom to choose. God planted a garden and put Adam, this man He created, in it. The garden was filled with pleasant trees, two of which are identified by name: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God gave but one restriction:

Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die. (Gen 2:17)

We know the story: the serpent persuaded Eve to eat of that tree, insisting there was no death in it, that it was the source of godlike wisdom. She gave it to Adam and he ate. Why weren’t they drawn instead to the tree of life?

We human beings are forever tempted to taste a freedom that results in our own bondage. Given a choice, we gravitate toward death not life. Look at your own choices and say it isn’t so.

Fortunately, God has provided a way of escape.

The last Adam, Jesus Christ, has released us from the paradox of sin. His death and resurrection has broken sin’s power over our lives. We don’t have to obey the siren call of our own sin nature. We are free. Sin reigned in death. Grace reigns through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:19-21)

 “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

God Wants You to Live

  • A pregnant mother is brutally murdered in her suburban home, teeth fragments scattered around her room, blood puddling so that her toddler, left unharmed by the assailant, tracks crimson footprints through the house. The convicted killer: her husband.
  • A woman is shot dead in her employer’s parking lot by the father of her children in the midst of a protracted custody battle that ends as a murder-suicide. Their children: orphaned. 
  • A young man is stabbed to death in his own apartment. Police arrest his live-in partner amid rumors of domestic abuse.

These are not random plot lines from an episode of CSI or, my personal favorite, The Closer.

These are real life tragedies involving flesh-and-blood people whose names and faces I knew. Not characters in a Hollywood drama. These were neighbors, fellow church members, co-workers.

No one ever expects to actually know somebody whose life ends in homicide. But what used to be the stuff of screenplays or page-turning novels has become the scenario of everyday life.

Relationships matter.

The people with whom we choose to enter into intimate relationship can alter the course of our lives for good or ill. The right relationships with the right people can be a blessing, life-giving. The wrong relationships with the wrong people in the wrong circumstances can be deadly.

How do we know which people can be trusted? We don’t. Ultimately, those who have a relationship with God, must choose to trust God. Through Jeremiah, the prophet, God said this:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” He added: “I, the Lord, search the heart…” 

Whatever else may be a mystery to you about God, know this:

Now, be honest. Do you see yourself or someone you know living a plot line with the potential to end badly – in bruises, body bags, morgues?

Resolve to do something: To get help, To get out.

No one has to die. You can walk away. You can start over. God makes all things new.

* Are you in Wake County, NC and need safety, support, aware in a domestic violence situation?  Interact offers a 24-hour crisis line: 866-291-0855 Toll-Free or visit http://www.interactofwake.org/

Looking for life in dead things?

 

Vultures.

Wherever there is something dead you’ll find these carrion-eating carnivores feasting on putrid flesh.

I was running the other day and noticed the wide wings of a group of these scavengers circling overhead. The closer I got to their position, the more I wondered just what what had caught their interest. Eventually, my run took me past two squirrels flattened to the pavement dead ahead – no pun intended!

The vultures, flying high above the trees, had spotted those poor creatures and apparently were planning when to swoop in and enjoy the road kill.

By the time I passed that spot a few minutes later on the return run, two of those dead-eyed, bald-headed birds had made their descent and were chomping away at each of the departed squirrels. As I approached, I tried to calculate how long it would take them to abandon their dinner and take to the skies. Neither seemed to be in any hurry. I was close enough for them to hear my foot fall. Neither looked up.

The one closest to me waited until I could have hit him squarely in the head with a rock before he finally took flight. The other, however, kept right on eating until I was beside him. Even then, he refused to leave the ground, reluctantly flying almost directly into me as I passed and settling a few feet away on the side of the road, keeping a wary eye on the meal.

No sooner had I passed than this nasty bird went right back to eating, head down in a mass of bloody tissue.

Vultures love dead things. That is just their nature. They feed on it. They have internal radar, it seems, to help them find a constant supply of the next dead meal.

Ever known people like that? People who are attracted to dead things? I don’t mean corpses necessarily. I’m talking about people who seem to be captivated by things that have no life in them?

  •  People who are serially attracted to dead people – same type with a different name – only to find that this relationship, too, is lifeless.
  • People who keep doing the same dead things expecting them to one day produce life: looking for love in dead zones – bars, raves, blind dates – hoping to find a life-giving soul mate.
  • People who fill their minds with death-soaked music, books, movies and art and wonder why they are depressed and suicidal.

People are not meant to find sustenance in dead things. In fact, God wants us to put distance between ourselves and dead people and things. The Old Testament, for example, commands God’s people to separate themselves from dead things lest they be made “unclean.”

When the disciples made their way to the tomb where Jesus’ dead body had been laid, they were met by angels who asked them a question:

 “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” It’s a question still worth asking.

Jesus came that we might have life. So why do we keep trying to suck life out of spiritual carrion?

Looking for life? The Psalmist said you’ll find it by seeking the Lord. And you will lack no good thing.

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in Him. Psalm 34:8 (KJV)

Need Debt Forgiveness?

  What you don’t know can hurt you. You don’t know what you don’t know. By the time you learn, the fix-it boat may have sailed.  Want a real life example?

While training for my first half-marathon, I reached mile 12 and my right shin decided it simply was not going to keep up that pace. Off I went to physical therapy.

I didn’t know precisely what it would cost, but this was familiar territory. I’d taken my daughter to PT during her senior season of cross country. I chose a different therapist whose location was more convenient, plunked down my co-pays at each of 8 visits and never gave it a second thought.

Imagine my shock when the final bill arrived one month after the last session: $1200-plus. No itemized list of specific charges. Just a bill with a payment address and a note that failing to pay within 30 days would result in additional charges.

Who knew that a few half-hour therapy sessions could cost so much? You might say it was unwise not to consider the end from the beginning. And you’d be right.

I got my therapy, ran my race and claimed my trophy without once considering the ultimate cost of reaching the finish line. It never occurred to me that the price would exceed what I was prepared to pay.

I’m not alone in my lack of foresight.

Plenty of people go blithely through life completely unconcerned about the day of reckoning. Oh, we know we are mortal, that 100 percent of the living will die. Yet, we don’t prepare for our dying day.

We have our reasons.  We say, “When you’re dead, you’re done; so why worry?” Or we’re confident that when life’s bill comes due, our good deeds will cancel our bad debts. In the end, we assume everything will work out. Of course, the end is not an ideal time to find out.

Christianity favors complete disclosure: Dead is not done. “It is appointed unto men once to die and then the judgment.” Judgment sounds to me like settling accounts. We’re advised to “count the cost” on the front end of things so we know whether we have what it takes to pay the bill.

Lest we abandon all hope, Christianity offers debt forgiveness. You’ll probably see it advertised in the stands at next Sunday’s Super Bowl: a placard painted with John 3:16. This plan goes by several names: Substitutionary atonement. The Great Exchange. The Gospel.

Christ is our Advocate. He speaks in our defense, having satisfied our debt in full at the Cross. We walk away.

Whether you’re dealing with spiritual indebtness or an unbelievable bill for services rendered, learn from my mistake.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to understand your situation. The Bible says in all your getting, get understanding. If you seek counsel with your money, why not get some for your soul?

I recommend an Advocate. Works for me – body and soul. A health advocate resolved my physical therapy bill.  Final accounting: I actually owed about $400. That, my friend, is deliverance!

Still want to be free?

Sitting outside a Cameron Village boutique the other day, I noticed a sign hanging in the window: “I like my money right where I can see it, hanging in my closet.” (emphasis mine.)

My. Mine. Ownership.

We like to own designer clothes, luxury cars, estate homes, good jewelry, investment properties. What we own speaks of our status, our station, our authority.

When you own it, it is yours to command. With ownership, of course, comes responsibility. The things we own have to be maintained and protected. The greater their value, the greater our responsibility. You might say the things we own have a claim on us.

It may come as a shock, but we Christians are owned by God. We are bought with a price. We are not our own.  That equates to being a slave, not a very appealing prospect to the Western mind with its engrained sense of autonomy.

During an introduction to the book of Titus, Colonial Baptist Church senior pastor Stephen Davey explained that the word in Titus 1:1 translated “servant or bondservant” in most Bible versions is the Greek word “doulos,” which literally means “slave.” The translation is softened so as not to offend Western sensibilities and seem to endorse the brutality of slavery.

Nevertheless, the word is slave. Slaves have masters. They are not free agents, able to do as they please. They go where they are sent, do what they are told. Their choices are limited.

This is our situation as Christians. We have the illusion of autonomy.  We are free from the tyranny of sin, but not free to do anything we like. We are free to do God’s will.

I may not like this, but I can’t really argue with the logic of it. Scripture clearly teaches that our citizenship is in heaven, that heaven is a kingdom and that God sits as King eternal. Even in the natural realm a king rules over his subjects with the right to ask of them what he will.

What hit me was the flip side, that a king bears responsibility for his subjects! For whatever reason, it came as a revelation that God assumes complete responsibility for my care and protection because I am, to quote the name of a gospel choir, “God’s Property.”

I suddenly realized that much of what I struggle to manage and resolve simply isn’t my responsibility. Sure, I am called to do whatever God has assigned me to do, but it is His responsibility to handle any problems that arise while I am on His errands.

What a relief!

When I am staying in a hotel and the hot water goes out or the television set won’t work, I don’t spend one minute worrying about how to fix it. I bring it to the attention of the “owners” via their designated representatives and go about my business expecting them to make it right. It is their responsibility.

It just makes sense that if God calls me to speak, He’s responsible for whether people listen. If He tells me to go, the reception I receive also rests with him. I am to “obey God and leave all the consequences to Him,” as Charles Stanley is fond of saying.

Who doesn’t enjoy Sinatra’s rendition of “My Way” or the idea of being their “own man or woman”? But the truth is, acknowledging God’s rightful role as my owner takes nothing away from me. It’s actually a liberating concept. I don’t have to make anything happen. I am simply responsible for my small part. The battle is not mine, but God’s (2 Ch 20:15).

I am not one to make New Year resolutions, but I’m going to practice bringing to God those things that fall within His purview as owner. I no longer want to shoulder those responsibilities myself. It is exhausting and unnecessary. Turning them over to Him may be slavery, but it sounds like freedom to me.

My New Year is looking happier already! How about yours?