CHURCH AS A FIREPLACE...
I was stoking the embers of our overnight fire the other morning and once again reflected on church. In a similar way, church is like these embers in my fireplace. In the morning I take the lightly glowing coals and move them into a pile together. The result is that they once again catch aflame. Once alight, it becomes appropriate to put some more kindling and wood on it. But if there was no flame, the extra wood would only be singed rather than burnt. Can you see how this is like church?
We are sometimes like those cooling yet glowing embers. Once on fire until we drifted from the flame, we became a mere glowing ember. Christ is like the fire-box and the Holy Spirit is like the directing fire-poker. It is the Spirit's desire to bring together the members of a church so that their glow becomes a flame. But even this temporary flame is doomed to become a fading glow unless new wood is brought into the flame. In a similar way, the church needs to be continually inviting pre-Christians to church to keep the flame of zeal and passion for the Lord burning brightly.
for our God is a consuming fire.
But consider what happens to the wood in the fire-box. In order for the wood to become a burning coal, it must be transformed. When we come to Christ He doesn't leave us the way we came in. He transforms us. The flame of His Spirit begins to burn in our hearts. The wood has to give up something though. When we come to Christ, we also have to give up something. The wood lays down it's identity in order to be in a life-giving flame. We have to lay down our identities as selfish sinners and take on a new identity as followers of Christ.
so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
First Peter 1:7
Over the twenty years I have now been pastoring (nearly 16 of which has been at Legana) I have observed that people who come to church often get offended by someone within the church. I now wonder if this process of offence is not part of the Holy Spirit's transforming, purifying flame? The Holy Spirit may well be using the hurt, disappointment, and offence from another brother or sister in Christ to change us. How often have I heard the story of someone who has "tried" several churches, come to our church, but then experienced the same kind of hurt and offence which they experienced in their previous churches? In such a scenario, there is only one common factor: them. Could it be that if in every case where a believer feels offended in, or by, a church that it is the same flame of the Holy Spirit seeking to refine them through offensive fire emanating from another 'coal' (read: "believer") in Christ's "firebox"?
Then He said to the disciples, "It is impossible that no offenses should come...Luke 17:1
I've been trying to imagine what a piece of dried dead wood feels when it is placed in a fire. I guess it experiences instant transformation. I guess it experiences other pieces of wood similarly being transformed. I can imagine that the heat of the flame gradually may even become uncomfortable. But I guess that at some point, the wood comes to enjoy the flame. The wonderful colours it emits! The beautiful benefits of its warmth. Even the aromas of the different woods can be very pleasant. But, the woods would soon realise something. Unless it replenishes, it will die. The fire it has become integrated with, and come to love, must be renewed. More wood is needed. In the same way, a local church must continually strive to reach out to others, and evangelise.
An isolated coal or ember does not enjoy the benefits of community flame. When we come to church, it shouldn't be with the motive, what can this church do for me? But,what can we contribute to each other? This is the lesson of the fire-box: each piece of wood on fire not only benefits the other pieces of wood, but also benefits from the other pieces of wood. Church is like this. Why should you be a part of a church? Because weneed you! Why should you be a part of a church? Because you need us.
1Cor. 12:26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
The next time you sense yourself becoming isolated ask God to use the Holy Spirit in your life like a fire-poker to guide you back to the flame within Christ's fire-box, the local church. If you are already on fire but sense your flame is waning, ask God to use you to bring another to Christ and into His church. If you feel that your spiritual contribution to church is all one way, ask God to use you to be a blessing to even more people within the church. Maybe you've positioned your Christian walk within the fire-box, but intentionally on the outskirts of the fire. This may be like living your Christianity as a Sunday-only church Christian rather than as a two-winged Christian who enjoys the wing of the Sunday gathering of the church and the complementary wing of the small-group-community of the church, where the flame burns brighest.
Father, set us ablaze with Your love. Fill us with a fresh passion for Your cause, the Church. May our hearts burn with zeal to reach more people for Christ. Help us to see hurt, offence, and disappointment as a part of Your holy flame for our good. May we forgive easily and quickly so as to keep the love-flame of Your church's witness burning brighter. In Jesus Name', Amen.
Eph. 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.