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Archive for April, 2011

Previously we have considered a life on fire as it relates to John the Baptist. But as I close out this little series, we will leave John and take a peek into the Old Testament.

Lev 6:8-13 tells us about the burnt offering. It was the only one of the offerings that was given entirely to God. Every hoof and whisker was burned on that altar. None of it was taken anywhere else and none of it was given to the priest. It was wholly for God. Three times in this passage it says the fire shall always be burning. The priest tended the fire continually to make sure it didn’t go out and once the sacrifice was completely consumed, he removed the ashes. Notice that it doesn’t say that he sweeps or shovels out the ashes, but it says that he “takes them up” and it says the priest puts on the linen garments to do this. The only other place that it is recorded that the priest changes into the linen garments is on the day of atonement. These are the holy garments and this matter of a sacrifice offered wholly to God is a holy matter. He carries the ashes outside the camp to a clean place and there they are poured out.

But this is about something more than an animal; it is about my life. He wants it all for Himself. And He is the priest Who watches over the fire to keep it burning. It is only the totally consumed life that is poured out and when nothing remains of the sacrifice but the ashes that the fire has reduced it to, it is then that Jesus our high priest gathers them up. Do you see the beautiful picture? He is in the holy garments, carefully taking up what we have offered to Him. Do you see that it matters to Him when you offer yourself completely to Him? And He takes these ashes, which are your life, outside the camp and he pours us out into holy moments where our life intersects with the lives of others in what becomes a holy place. A life on fire is a consecrated life.

The word consecrate is an interesting word. When I looked it up I thought it would be defined by words like holy, separated, devoted. But what this word means is “to fill the hand”, as in when you would fill your hand with an offering that you were offering up to God. The definition of the root of this word is fullness. That was utterly shocking to me and a wonderful revelation. I had always thought of consecration as an act of emptying, but God sees it as an act of filling.

Maybe you’ve heard the stories of the men and women who walked with God so closely that their presence in a room changed the atmosphere. Many times I have wondered if these were just special people who were singled out because of the particular calling on their lives….or is this something that all believers can have – this life on fire, walking so closely with God that it is tangible to those around you. I was reminded of the story that Jesus told about those who were invited to the banquet that had been prepared and they wouldn’t come. They were just busy with other things. They missed it. Jesus waits at the banquet table ready to give what we need and what we desire….but there is a requirement. Would we go live out in the wilderness to seek His face? Can we let ourselves, all of ourselves, be put on the altar to be consumed by Him that we may be poured out for Him? Can we turn away from the distractions of this life, and just come to the table? If we could just see what He longs to give we would hunger for it……and we too could receive a life on fire.

Luke 12:49 “I came to send a fire on the earth and how I wish it were already kindled”

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“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is He of whom I said “After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.  I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”  John 1:29 – 31

John’s life was about pointing people to Christ.  In verse 31 he states “therefore I came” acknowledging that the whole purpose for everything he was about was that Christ should be revealed. He understood that the purpose of his life was to reveal Christ.

When the Pharisees asked him why he baptized, he didn’t give his pedigree.  He could have pointed out that his father was a priest, that his birth was announced by an angel, that there were prophecies given of his life and ministry.   He defended himself only by stating his purpose (the voice of one crying) and then announced to them  “but there stands one among you”.  He didn’t really need to be validated by those around him.  He just need to do what God  sent him to do.  That was good enough for John.

John even pointed his own disciples to Jesus.  He wasn’t building his own ministry or his own following.  He wasn’t interested in establishing some great work in his own name.  He knew that the bridegroom was coming and it was enough for him to be the friend.

In a day when so many in American Christianity have become seduced by the “destiny teachings” that tend to focus on us, maybe we could find our way back to realizing that the destiny of each believer is simply to reveal Christ.  Oh that ours also may be lives that exalt our Christ!

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The Old Testament verses that prophesy John’s ministry call him the “voice of one crying in the wilderness”.   That word “crying” doesn’t just mean that he was loud.   It means that his crying out was a manifestation of feeling; the outward expression of what was going on in the heart of the man.   He wasn’t just saying some words, fulfilling some obligation to preach.  But he was releasing what was burning on the inside of him.

Matthew 3:5 tells us “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him”  – the people knew that there was something different about John.  He wasn’t like the rabbis that they listened to each Sabbath, who gave lifeless instruction, but there was a quality present in John’s preaching that was unique.  And it drew people.

If you went to hear John preach and took your notepad, you would probably come home with a blank paper.  You wouldn’t have a list of five ways to be a better law-keeper, or ten ways to be a better Jew.  But you would have come away with a heart on fire for this God that John preached.

All those years shut away in the wilderness seeking God had produced a man whose heart burned for God.  He was passionate for God.  And when he spoke, you knew it.

To be continued…..

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One of the very first portrayals I saw of John the Baptist was in the 1970’s mini-series “Jesus of Nazareth”.  The character was played by Michael York, whose hair was always askance and eyes wild.  His voice was loud, his countenance a bit sullen and he was somewhat of a frightening character.   This has always seemed to fit well with his words, which were like flaming darts aimed at the hearts of the people.  John had some strong words, especially for the religious people.   Knowing what we do now about the heart condition of those Pharisees, when we read about John’s strong words to those old religious hypocrites we want to cheer because there is something in us that gets some type of perverse pleasure in seeing those people embarrassed and exposed for what they really are in front of everybody.   But John’s goal was not public humiliation, but repentance.

In Luke 3:7-15  John gives a flaming rebuke to the crowd and when the people respond, he doesn’t continue to pile on the condemnation.  His mission was to prepare the way and when a heart had been made tender and brought to repentance, he knew his mission had been accomplished in that one.  As their hearts were pierced by his words they would come to him asking “what should we do?”  And John helps them by giving them instruction on how they can obey and please God.   The fiery preacher turned to gentle teacher.

Even John’s rebuke to Herod was not to defame the man, but to lead him to repentance.  There is no evidence that John ever publicly issued this rebuke to Herod in front of a multitude of people.  Each account of this in the gospels said that John “said to Herod”.  He wasn’t trying to dazzle the crowds with his speaking ability or draw their admiration by his recklessly courageous speaking.  His heart yearned for these people to be ready for their Messiah.   It was a longing that burned in him and through him.

A life on fire genuinely wants to help people get right with God.  Whether with a harsh rebuke or tender instruction, whatever it takes, this one longs to be a minister of reconciliation.

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In considering the life of John the Baptist as an example of a life on fire, I would like to move on to the responsiveness of this life. “…the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.  And he went in to all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”  Luke 3:2b-3

Notice these phrases – “the word of God came” “and he went”.  John didn’t sit around luxuriating in the warmth of a word from God.  He recognized that the word made a requirement of him.  The word came…and he went.  The word makes a requirement of us as well – obedience.

Somewhere after being born again, as we become more acclimated in the Christian environment, we can find ourselves receiving the word of God in a way other than how God meant for us to receive it.  Consider what was happening in the day of Ezekiel the prophet:

“As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’  So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain.  Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.” Ezekiel 33:30-32

These were the religious folks; happy to get together for church, ready to hear a message.  But they had no intention of allowing that word to impact their lives.  It was just their religious form of entertainment.  And it is just as prevalent in our day.  How many people do you know that run from church to church, conference to conference, book to book, always looking for the latest word in religion.  They aren’t necessarily just interested in the religious cotton candy that’s out there, but find an in-your-face message just as tasty.  However, the word is not allowed to nourish and bring growth to their inner man.  It makes its way to the belly and is eliminated without ever having affected the heart.   It is spiritual bulimia.

But those whose lives are on fire by God will listen with a heart to obey, to hear the very voice of God speaking to them through the message.  “Speak to me God!” is the cry of their heart, and they treasure one word from heaven over 10,000 messages from the most learned theologians.  Then, and only then, can they go with something to share with the world.

Oh let us hear!  Let us respond!  And let our hearts burn for His speaking!

To be continued…..

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A life on fire

“I came to send a fire on the earth and how I wish it were already kindled”  Luke 12:49

These are the words of Jesus.  A fire is to be kindled.  A fire that He desires to be kindled.  What is this fire that He longs for?  As I have thought upon this passage, I keep returning to the same conclusion – Jesus is longing for the day when His followers are aflame with desire for Him.  He came to send a fire on earth.  That fire is this new life that He gives those who believe in Him.  It is a life on fire.

But what does this look like?  What is a life on fire?  My meditations on this subject kept leading me back to one man – John the Baptist.  He illustrates it well.

A life on fire is a focused life

John’s life was a focused life.  He wasn’t into fancy clothes and fine cuisine, but was satisfied with camels hair and locusts.  He was so focused on one thing that he didn’t need a whole lot of other things.  And that one thing was this – I must prepare the way.  John could have been a priest, with all the prestige and perks that accompanied such a life.  Instead he chose the wilderness and a life of seeking God, being prepared for the work that God had created him for.  When the prophet Malachi put down his pen, then began 400 years of silence from heaven.  And then….

“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberias Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in thee wilderness.” Luke 3:1-2

These verses are a veritable who’s who of that day.  There were many powerful leaders both in the secular world and the religious world.  These were men of influence, wealth and power; respected (or at least feared) by those they ruled.  But when God was looking for someone to speak through, He spoke through John.  John was nobody; some obscure man living in deserted places.  But he had set himself apart to seek the face of God and be a vessel prepared for His use.  So God was pleased to overlook the well-known and look upon the unknown.  This man who had spent his life seeking God was now to speak for God and when he emerged on the scene, his was a life on fire.

To be continued…..

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