That Pentecostal Fire
Fire has long represented God and the presence of his Holy Spirit. (strike match or a lighter)
One day as Moses was tending his father-in-law's sheep, he saw an amazing sight. A bush was on fire, yet it was not being consumed. As he approached this unusual sight, he heard a voice saying, "Moses, Moses." Moses responded with the words, "Here I am". Then the voice, who Moses later discovered was God’s said, "Do not come any closer but take off your sandals for you are standing on holy ground." Out of the burning bush, God called Moses to lead the Israelite people to the promised land.
Then as Moses and the Israelites made their way across the wilderness to this promised land, they were lead by God himself. During the day time God was with them in the form of a huge pillar of cloud and at night by a pillar of fire. This fire was so bright they could see to travel at night.
One of the most exciting dramas in the Bible is the story of the prophet Elijah and his duel with the prophets of the pagan god, Baal. Many of the Israelites had begun worshipping this false god. In an act of boldness, Elijah challenged the prophets to a test between their god and the one almighty God. Two altars were prepared; two bulls were slaughtered and then placed on the altars.
The prophets of Baal began to call upon their god, dancing around the altar, praying to their god that it would bring down fire from heaven and consume their offering. This went on for the better part of the day while Elijah taunted them, "Perhaps, your god is taking a nap or else he is on a potty break!" Elijah was unrelenting in his verbal assault. Finally Elijah turned to the altar he had built. He ordered that nearly 10 gallons of water be poured over the altar and the sacrifice. He then prayed that God would show his power. As Elijah prayed, the fire of the Lord fell and burned up not only the sacrifice, but the wood, the stones, the soil around the altar and licked up the very water that stood in the trench around the altar.
As we move into the New Testament portion of the Bible, we find that it was a fiery star that leads the wise men to the small town of Bethlehem. As the star came to rest over a certain house, they entered and found the new born son of God; the Baby Jesus.
Finally we arrive at our text for today. It was the day of Pentecost. The disciples were all gathered together in one room praying and worshipping God when, suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven. The sound filled the whole house where they were gathered. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages. They took this miracle of language into the streets and began to preach the Good News to the people who had gathered from all over the world.
Standing before us today (banner) is the symbol of the United Methodist Church, the cross and the flame. This symbol is a constant reminder of God's way of salvation-the cross and God's presence in his church, the flame.
To this day, fire remains a good illustration of God and God's Holy Spirit.
Fire cannot help but remind us of the power of our God. I am sure we have all seen portrayals of the old locomotive trains. They came equipped with a furnace which constantly had to have wood or coal thrown into them. The ideal being that the hotter the fire, the more energy produced, the faster the train would go. Fire produced power. Fire reminds us that God is so powerful that God merely said the word and the world came into being. What was that word? God said, “Let there be light.” And we are told, there was light. We must never confuse God’s power with that of a flickering candle. It is more like that of a raging inferno.
Fire reminds us of the presence of God. Stationed on our communion table are the altar candles. Those candles are visual aids to help us remember that God is present. As our services of worship begin these candles are lit signifying that were two or three are gathered in the name of the Lord, he is present. When the service concludes, the acolyte will light the candle lighter and led us out of the sanctuary. As we follow the fire we know that as we go into the world the presence of God goes before us.
Fire has also been used to demonstrate the Holiness of our God. Fire is not something that we should take lightly. We teach our children early on that fire is something that should be respected. We are not to play around with it. If we do not use it appropriately, if you misuse, if we do not respect it, it can cause pain.
Fire for the Christian can also signify enthusiasm, joy, _happiness. As we read about the day of Pentecost in Acts, we cannot help but sense the enthusiasm that the disciples had. One moment that are in hiding, the next they are so excited they cannot contain themselves. No longer can they remain behind the locked doors of the upper room. They came out and started sharing what they had experienced. In fact, when someone is excited about something, what is the term we often use to describe it? We say that person is “on fire.” We go to a football game and down next to the field are a group of cheerleaders. They are hoping and screaming and turning all types of flips in order to do what? To get us fire up. When someone is excited about their faith, we say, “They are on fire for Jesus.”
It is important for us to realize that a fire, if not carefully tended, can go out. This can be true of a Christian’s joy as well. It seems we have churches filled today with people who were once excited about their faith, they had a fire about them, but something happened that allowed that spark to go out, or at least caused it to fade.
A common term we often hear mentioned today is “Burnout.” This is the idea that someone, who had been enthused about what they were doing, suddenly loses the joy and excitement that had. We have allot of Christians who are suffering from spiritual burnout.
One of the major causes of any kind of burnout, spiritual or otherwise, is forgetting why it is we are doing what we are doing.
Two persons were talking together before a large church which was being destroyed by fire. The first man spoke in a voice which could be heard above the voice of the firemen: "This is the first time I ever saw you at church." To this the second responded: "This is the first time I ever saw the church on fire." There are many prophets of doom saying that the age of the Christian Church is over - that it has lost its zeal! We're taking a beating right now in this country and around the world. Our theology is being questioned. Everyone is writing a critical book against the organized church. We have had to take some unpopular stands on social issues. Magazines are attacking the ministry, and it isn't the thing to do anymore to join the church. (Why Belong To The Church?, anthology, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.)
Instead of being the church of Pentecostal fire, we have become the church under fire.
We must remember why it is that we are doing the things we are doing. We must not take our eyes off of Jesus.
When we take our eyes off of Jesus, when we forget why it is we do what we do, we find our energy begin to wan our fire begins to fad. Sometimes this occurs very subtly, other times our spiritual fire fads because we douse it with things that extinguish it.
When we allow sin, or wrongful attitudes into our life, it is like cutting on a fire hydrant full force and aiming it directly on our flame and if our flame was already flickering to begin with, it won’t stand a chance.
One of the things I enjoy about winter is building a fire in the fireplace. It is so cozy. I feel as if all my burdens sort of melt away. But I must confess to you, I am not a very good fire builder. Oh, I have gotten better over the years but still, I end up using a lot of newspaper. And talk about blowing, sometimes I blow so hard and so long that I think I am about to hyperventilate. But when the fire is finally going, it is worth the effort.
But I have also learned something else. It is a whole lot easier to keep the fire going than it is to let it go out and then try to start it up again. So, I will spend a great deal of time, stoking the fire. I will place wood on the flames and gently blow underneath the flames until it catches. A fire must be feed to keep it growing.
The same is true of our spiritual fire. We must feed it the things it needs to keep it going and to help it grow. What are the things that feed our spiritual fire? What are those pieces of kindling that keeps the fire alive? Look at the early Christians in our text from Acts. The fire that was in them did not go out after the day of Pentecost. In Acts 2:42 we read:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
We need to spend time in prayer. We need to read the Bible. We need to go to church and spend time with other spiritual people. We need to focus on the positive things of God’s world and these things becomes fuel to keep the fire alive.
In one of his letters to the young preacher named Timothy, Paul encouraged him to “stir up the gift that is within him.” Perhaps you sense that your fire is not what it use to be or what you want it to be. Then maybe you need to stir up the fire, poke it a bite, and allow the sweet wind of the Holy Spirit blow on it till it is in full flame.
Some of you may be familiar with the name Catherine Marshall. She was a wonderful Christian author who wrote such classics as Christy which became a television series. There was an occasion in her life when she felt as if the flame of God’s love had gone out. It started with the sudden death of her infant grandchild. She called it the dark night of the soul. In her journal she described it this way:
Inside I am dry and lonely, unable to accomplish anything, really, just going through the motions of life, barely able to do that. It is more than a dry period. I’ve been through those before and did not lose the Presence. This is darkness. Deadness. Awful in the way it numbs you, makes you cold and indifferent. You do the very things, say the very word, you know you should not. Frightening! (Light in My Darkness, p. 176.)
But she did not give up. She kept praying. She kept doing everything she could to stir up the fire. Eventually in her journal she wrote the following:
A feeling rises up inside me that little trickles of praise are now running together, merging, beginning to form a small river of praise. It began mechanically, yet now has increasingly the feel of spontaneous emotion.
Slowly but surely my mind is being cleansed. Rich, beautiful, positive words are taking over, chasing away the negative ones. I am being filled with Your light.
Lord Jesus, how radiant and glorious is the light of Yours!.... Suddenly I felt the living presence of Jesus. What joy to have this again in my life! (Light in My Darkness, p. 221).