I've been thinking. My family would say 'that is dangerous' but I know that is only true if the thoughts were original or dealt with a new theory of relativity. Mine seldom are..and I promise I won't.
By the way, if you haven't seen the book Introducing the Missional Church by Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren...you need to get your hands on it. Enough said.
I started a fire in the fireplace for a New Year celebration. It actually was because I was really cold but let's say it was to recognize, celebrate, and invite 2010.
The fire caught hold, began to burn nicely...but it really wasn't nearly big enough (a guy thing). So I went outside grabbed a very large handful of pine needles from the ground and jammed them under the grate. They caught fire rapidly and the flame began to crackle and spread with a brilliant yellow orange. Soon the flame was very large and the pine needles were being quickly consumed. But the unburned wood on the top just gave off a bit of smoke and brushed aside the pine flame. It was almost as if the wood knew the pine needles didn't have a long enough life span to really make a difference. So the wood just smiled and said 'no thank you' to the urgent flame. Within seconds, the pine needles were just glowing embers that maintained their shape but did no damage.
Before long, the fire place finally became a place of warmth. I could stand in the front and feel the heat on the back of my jeans. It was good. But how 'good' is good. So I stoked the fire with the biggest chunk of split pine I had at my disposal. It was twice the diameter of the previous logs and a good ten inches longer than the iron grate that now held the coals of history.
The longer log just sat there. In fact, it actually started to snuff out the fire. This is not good. The beautiful yellow - red - blue flame was changing to gray smoke. Thank God the chimney was doing it's thing!
I got the handy poker (the kind that shows up in dime-store murder mysteries) and stirred the fire to fight back the growing cloud of smoke. Then (as if on cue from Clint Eastwood as the director of this drama) the log burst into flame on one end. It was glorious!
But the flame was only on one end. The other end just stuck out beyond the grate, hung out into space, and dangled over some long forgotten coals. It just sat there.
That is, it sat there until the forgotten coals did their thing. They did what they were created to do. They gave off heat...lots of it. Until the bare end of the large log began to send off little swirling puffs of smoke. Little by little the smoke started to grow. First in little singular swirls with lines that could be traced against the darkened bricks of the fire box. And them with potent puffs that would bring a hopeful gleam to the eye of any good Boy Scout.
It happened right before my eyes! The dry, extended, unburnt, end of the log was finally captured by flame. First in a small way through the cracks and misshaped angles of the edge. Then the whole split edge was aflame and sending tongues of fire to the upper limits of the log.
Will it go? Suddenly, Yes! It burst into flame and became the most beautiful part of the whole experience. It was wonderful. All because a little pile of red embers remained faithful to their task. There was nothing but constant, faithful, committed heat that created the possibility for the fullness of flame.
Is there a moral to the story. Of course. I hope you already see it clearly and that you are warmed by the possibilities for your own life. Here's how I see it for my journey...
The church (faithful believers) must remain faithful to the task. Stay hot, stay alive, hold on to the call of Christ....always seeking the purpose for which you originally caught fire. The purpose is to allow the flame of the Holy Spirit to burn brightly through your life and to fill the air with the radiant gold-yellow-orange-blue flame that will ultimately burn white hot. Not like the pine needles that are quickly consumed and have little effect. But like the coals that glow and search for fulfillment.
It is the refiners fire the purifies everything within it's reach. It is the flame of Pentecost that expands the mystery and motivates new ministries. It is the gift we have been given and the task that is always at hand...burn strong! But above all...burn!
As always, I am looking forward to sharing the warmth of the flame in 2010 and beyond!