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Fire and Ash Speech

February 10, 2013

This is a speech I gave during a revival service at the Raleigh BCM. It was delivered in February of 2012, and came in two parts.

Part 1:

Fire is such an integral part of humanity that not a single relic of ancient art shows us absent from this fascinating phenomenon. It’s so extraordinary to us, in fact, that our ancestors had to explain it through myths such as the tale of Prometheus stealing fire from the heavens in a tube. But why does what science defines only as the act of uncontrolled burning have this reputation? As oxygen reacts with various fuels, chemical bonds are broken and energy is released in the form of heat and light, expressing itself visually to us as a flame. Different fuels create different flames; magnesium burns white hot while copper burns a deep turquoise. We’ve managed to explain why this is so, convincing ourselves that we can scientifically categorize everything about fire, but we’ve never been able to explain why humanity is so enthralled with it. I mean, there’s fire worship! An infinitely more complex branch of science such as string theory doesn’t begin to compare. The phrase isn’t “You pulled me in like gravity,” it’s “You were on fire up there!” And at which point in the house is everyone typically gathered around? The fireplace.

Fire also has a huge significance in the Bible. God lead the Israelites through the desert in Exodus by a pillar of fire. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone. When the Holy Spirit came down from heaven in Acts, it manifested itself in tongues of flame that sat atop everyone’s head. In John 15:6, Jesus proclaims “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown in the fire and burned.” At first glance, fire seems to have a very different purpose in each of these examples. It’s either something incredibly holy or incredibly destructive. But looking at the incidents closer, it’s easy to see that fire always accompanies a purity. It’s a force to be reckoned with; either destroying cities, or signifying the beginning of what we call the priesthood of all believers. It vaporized the sacrifice of Elijah and then transported him to heaven. Fire seems to be the epitome of all things that are not mediocrity.

Perhaps that’s where the phrase “You’re on fire” came from. What, taken at face value, could mean imminent death somehow means “You’re doing great, you’re winning, or I’m impressed with you” when said with a congratulatory tone. Since it has nothing to do with physical danger, it must come from its association with power and the complete lack of being average. It’s noticeable. It’s awe-inspiring. What’s the best part about the Fourth of July? The fireworks.

So what’s with all the songs about fire? Well, just that. My hope is that we can leave here tonight with the desire to leave mediocrity behind. That we’ll go out and be a force to be reckoned with. That we’ll burn white hot with the Spirit of God. Anthropologists and Biologists alike used to say that the only thing needed for human survival was food, water, and shelter. But now they’ve added another item to the list: fire. It’s actually heat if you want to get technical, but where on earth are you supposed to get heat without fire? We have an interesting parallel here: we can get all the food, water, and shelter our physical selves need, but without fire, we’ll eventually die. Likewise, we can get all the Bible-reading, church-going, and praying we want in our spiritual lives, but without that essential element, without the fiery passion of God working through us, we’ll die. Eventually we’ll fall into an average American Christian’s lifestyle. We’ll go through the motions and be both utterly and fantastically average. We’ll be worthless.

My plea to you is this: Don’t let this happen to you! If there is something that needs to be fixed in your life, go home and fix it tonight. Leave here and throw in all the fuel and oxygen that you need to keep a flame burning inside you. Let the heat and light of your flame radiate into your surroundings. I know my metaphors are starting to get away from me here, but let me end with this: it’s time to light the flame and leave here tonight on fire for God.

Part 2:

The fact that yesterday was Ash Wednesday lends itself wonderfully to tonight’s theme of being on fire for God. For anyone who doesn’t know, Ash Wednesday is the first day of a fasting period called Lent that lasts all the way until Easter Sunday. It’s a time to give up some of the unnecessary and focus on growing closer to God, and it was actually in this spirit of simplicity that we decided on having just bread for our snacks. Now I’m not going to ask everyone to pull out a piece of paper and write down something that they want to give up during Lent, but I am going to ask you to think about what needs to go.

What are ashes anyway but the useless leftovers from what once was a blazing fire? For a long time, ashes have been associated with death, probably stemming from the time of the bubonic plague. The song “Ring around the Rosie” includes a line that goes “Ashes, ashes” which was just a euphemism for the cremation of the dead. Even today, when someone gets cremated, their ashes are given to the relatives. But that person has moved on. Their spark of life has gone out, and what’s left of them in this world is a nothing but a pile of after products.

Don’t let your spiritual life burn out into a life of these mediocre after products. Revelation shows us that the apathy in the church of Laodicea was such a horrid thing in God’s eyes that he threatened to eject them from his mouth like disgusting room temperature water. Mediocrity isn’t worth anything. Middle management is often referred to as the worst position to be in on the business ladder because they aren’t high enough to call the shots, and aren’t low enough to see direct application of the company’s directives. People remember most the first impression you make on them and the last impression you make on them. The middle just sort of fades away.

So right now, I challenge you to look through your life and seek out the worthless ashes.  Find the places where you’ve given up and fallen into apathy. Sweep the ash away and replace it with a new fire. And when you realize that you can’t do this yourself, God will be waiting for you, waiting patiently as He always has been, waiting to say “I love you.” Let Him cleanse the useless mediocrity and start a blaze that will never go out, that can never go out because His spirit is in you. And then as Matthew says, you can be a light to others; a light that they can see God through you to come to glorify him. A light, signifying that you’re on fire for God.­­

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