Purge: To rid of whatever is impure or undesirable; to clear away; to remove as by cleansing. If you have ever put your laundry in the washer, only to find that stain you had "thought" was pre-treated with some magic substance guaranteeing its removal is still there, just a tiny bit less noticeable than before you put it in, you probably will understand what I am about to say. Some stains have a way of driving us all nuts! We try all our known resources to get them out - from the pre-treats, to the scrubs, and even the industrial strength stuff. Yet, they remain stubbornly evident! What on earth is up with that? If the truth be told, we don't even remember "what" caused the stain, we only see the evidence it exists! So, how on earth do we really know what resource to use on it in the first place?
When you put us through the fire to purge us from our sin, our dearest idols go up in smoke. (Psalm 39:11 MSG)
This is the problem with relying on our own resources to remove what we "get ourselves into". The "stains" just come out a little different looking, but deep down, they are still there! Without identifying the cause of the stain, we won't know what the "cure" for the stain really is. This is quite true in our lives, as well. We get "stained" by a lot of different things - people's insults, our own wrong choices, bad teaching, errant thoughts, and the list goes on. To think one "fix" will be the magic end-all to the stains we accumulate in life is a little presumptuous, don't ya think? Now, for those who want to get all spiritual and tell me Jesus is the "fix" for all "stains", you are technically not wrong, but he uses different means by which to address each type of "stain", does he not? Yesterday's "stain removal method" will not be tomorrow's - the stains differ and so does the process he takes us through in removing them!
We want to over-simplify this idea of change, don't we? Would companies make millions and millions of dollars each year with supposed miracle-working creams, chemicals, and the like if we did not? The idea of change frightens some of us and mystifies the rest of us. Rarely do we find someone who is just chatting at the bit to readily and easily embrace change. In fact, they might want change, but once the change begins to happen, their perception about the change may not even come close to measuring up to what they imagined the change would be like. If you have ever tried to go from a size 18 to a size 12 you know exactly what I mean!
Our passage today refers to fire - probably one of the most powerful forces which brings change to everything it touches. Since I have done my share of camping, I associate campfire building with the "making of a fire". It usually served a couple of purposes like cooking what we'd eat that night, warming us when the sun went down, and then it became a gathering spot for the sharing of stories way into the wee hours of the night. In order for a fire to get going though, there is a process which occurs. I'd like to take a moment this morning to explore the creation of a campfire.
* The place for the fire must be prepared. As we'd set out to build the fire, the first thing we'd do is to clear a space for it. You just don't build a fire in the middle of the place you stand - you prepare a "pit" of sorts. The purpose of preparing the area is to give an open space for the fire to be established. Sometimes God is after this small area in our lives where we will clear just a little space for him to begin to build the fire which will ignite the change process in us. The clearing process is really a matter of our attentiveness - we do the clearing - making space for him to begin to work out the details of the fire.
* The process of gathering the right resources for the fire is essential. If you gather only green wood, it is hard to catch hold and makes much more smoke than you'd desire. If you get too much wood that is dense like larger limbs from a tree, it might be good later, but it doesn't help the fire "catch" to begin with. You need kindling wood to start the fire. If you only gather kindling wood, without any larger pieces, you will not have enough fuel to sustain the fire. So, the type of resources gathered actually sets up the type of fire we will build, doesn't it? If we want the fire which will go well into the night hours, burning the hottest and brightest, we need the "right stuff". We may only want to exert the effort of collecting the kindling - not having to search for anything which may sustain the fire for a while. This will be to our undoing when the winds of change begin to blow across that fire. The kindling will soon be consumed and the fire will burn hot for a short while, but quickly fizzle out. In order to get deep, red-hot coals we need the "right resources". So, don't be surprised when God sets to building a fire in your heart and then requires you to tap into resources you might find a little harder to "find" than others! He is just trying to create the hottest fire!
* The purpose of the fire is always to change something. Whether we light a fire to see into the darkness, or to use it to heat water, it is still changing something. Fire changes what it touches - plain and simple. Even the heat produced changes us - we move closer when we are colder, farther away when we are "sufficiently warmed". Resources are consumed in the fire, but in the consuming of those resources, there is an exchange which occurs. In the consumption process, heat, light, and transforming power are produced. There is nothing quite like the power of fire - maybe this is why God likens the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to that of a consuming fire. He brings change - affecting every prepared place. As our writer says it, "Our favorite idols go up in smoke." I don't know what this says to you, but it tells me God lights the fire to affect us - not just to dazzle us!
Just some thoughts on the fire today. No one lights a fire to hide it under a bushel, right? It would be silly to smother what gets lit - stoke it and see what comes from it. You might just see the change you never thought possible in your life. Just sayin!