Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 5/13/07
"Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel" (Ex. 24:17).
The word "fire" appears 480 times in the Bible, making it one of the most often used symbols in scripture. As I was pondering this topic, Lenny came in from a walk and told me that the Lord had been speaking to him about the Baptism of fire. The reference is to what John the Baptist said about himself when he began his ministry, fulfilling the words of Isaiah: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God." (Lk. 3:4-6, KJV). As the voice crying in the wilderness began to preach a baptism of repentance, the crowds came out to be baptized by him in the Jordan River. They thought he might be the long awaited Messiah, but John refuted that idea: "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached THE GOOD NEWS to them" (Vs. 16-18). Notice that this promise that Christ would baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with FIRE was considered "Good News."
"Fire" in the Bible has acquired a very bad rap indeed, as most Christians associate it with hell fire and eternal damnation. Before we go further, it is necessary to remember that fire is a symbol of God Himself, "for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). That verse should reduce the fear factor on this topic, because we are talking about our loving Heavenly Father here. God is the fire with which Jesus promised to baptize His followers. Furthermore, the idea that fire is the punishment of the wicked loses its validity when you consider that Mark said, "For EVERY ONE will be salted with fire" (Mark 9:49). Since everyone will be salted with fire, it must be removed from the punishment category and placed instead into the blessing category. The only way we can see that is if we repent of every horrible thing we've thought about God's wrath making it necessary for Him to stoke the fires of hell to punish the wicked, and ask the Spirit to open our eyes and ears to see a better plan of redemption than that sorry tale has ever been.
I was looking at several commentaries on Mark 9:49, to see what they had to say about everyone being salted with fire. After admitting that this verse has perplexed many over the years, the Barnes' Commentary used the analogy that the fire is to the disciple, what salt was to the sacrifice by fire offered to God (Lev. 2:13): "You shall season all your cereal offerings with salt; you shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be lacking from your cereal offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt." I don't know very much about Barnes', but clearly, he belonged to a different day with stricter rules than most Christians follow today. He advocated a labor intensive, clean up yourself before God kind of self effort: "....everything which would endanger their salvation should be sacrificed; that they should deny themselves and practice all self-denials, in order to obtain eternal life. In this way they would be preserved to eternal life. The word "fire" here, therefore, denotes self-denials, sacrifices, trials, in keeping ourselves from the gratification of the flesh. As if he had said: "Look at the sacrifice on the altar. It is an offering to God, about to be presented to him. It is sprinkled with salt, emblematic of PURITY, of PRESERVATION, and of fitting it, therefore, for a sacrifice. So you are devoted to God. YOU are sacrifices, victims, offerings, to him in his service. To make you acceptable offerings, everything must be done to preserve you from sin, to purify you, and to make you fit offerings. Self-denials, subduing the lusts, enduring trials, removing offenses, are the proper preservatives in the service of God. Doing this, you will be acceptable offerings, and be saved; without this, you will be unfit for his eternal service, and will be lost." End Quote.
I admit that reading this made me want to a) crawl under the covers and hide my head and then, b) fall on my face in thanksgiving and praise to God that it is CHRIST's responsibility to "present the church (that's us) to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27). Cleaning myself up (justification, sanctification, and purification) is NOT my job, anymore than saving myself is, which is a very good thing, most of us would admit.
Therefore, since Christ is the one responsible to present us faultless before the throne (Jude 24), it follows that the salting with fire, i.e., being baptized with the Spirit and with fire is a good thing which accomplishes just this end: our perfection before God.
As I mentioned, Lenny shared what the Lord said to him on his walk regarding the Baptism in the Holy Spirit that occurred on the Day of Pentecost. Here's the account: "And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:2-4). The Lord said to Lenny that He used tongues of fire that day to show how much greater the power of God is than human power, for "no human being can tame the tongue, a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:8). On the Day of Pentecost, God harnessed the tongue and used it for His own glorious purposes, to speak to the multitude gathered in Jerusalem that day. They heard the gospel for the very first time, each man in his own language because God has power over all things, including the most unruly member of the body, the tongue! Each one of them was indeed salted with fire that day, as they followed the Christ into the promised Kingdom. God has been salting His children with fire from the beginning, as a reading of Hebrews, chapter eleven clearly shows.
When our eyes are opened to see it, each of us is salted with fire regularly as well. Think about Barnes' solution again: "Self-denials, subduing the lusts, enduring trials, removing offenses, are the proper preservatives in the service of God. Doing this, you will be acceptable offerings, and be saved; without this, you will be unfit for his eternal service, and will be lost." It sounds so righteous, doesn't it, service befitting a servant of God, and no doubt countless souls have tried to live this kind of life, only to fail miserably. We hear from people weekly who have bearded the lion in his own den of sin and have come out battered and bloody. Remember the Tar Baby that Bre'r Rabbit tackled? Every time our hero went in swinging, he got stuck and the more he struggled, the "stucker" he got.
That's exactly what happens when we try to conquer our lust, our addictions, our compulsions, our selfishness, or whatever we wrestle with by the strength of our own right arm. Only "the WAY" God has provided for us will prevail. When our eyes are opened to see our participation in His life and His indwelling of our life, we see that Christ took us with Him to the cross, through the tomb, and then carried us in Him to the right hand of the Father, where Paul says we are seated in heavenly places. He who knows the end from the beginning is the "alpha" and the "omega" of every situation which unfolds in our lives.
Until God opens our eyes to see the foolish agendas religion has hogtied us with, we will struggle and flail around and howl in pain. Even knowing God is the author and finisher of it doesn't make it feel good, as Job affirmed over and over. A friend said about this process, "Being brought to nothing is tough stuff. Now my boy hardly wants to come see me.... God has turned the heat up in every area on me. He knows what he is doing. I just don't like it at all." Here is an honest man and because he is willing to admit his deprivation, he is a little closer to seeing God's CERTAIN and ABUNDANT provision for him in our Father's time.
John the Baptist said about Jesus, "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:12). This definitely falls into the "scary scriptures" category, because it has typically been taken literally, like the sheep and the goats parable. In other words, most Christians think they are either "wheat" or "chaff," either a "sheep" or a "goat." One brother made us smile by saying that when he was a young Christian, he tried so hard not to be a goat. The Lord showed me years ago that we mistakenly think we have both natures in us: "wheat" and "chaff," "sheep" and "goat." These "good" and "bad" natures seem to be struggling for dominance and we think we have to do something to tip the scales toward the "good" side so we won't be lost. It never works, of course, which brings us further down into the pits of depression and despair. In fact, God has taken care of this struggle, as He has done for every thing else in our Christian life. The purpose of the unquenchable fire in Matthew and Luke's account is to burn off the chaff, leaving us only as wheat.
We are sons of God, not sinners. Yes, we were sinners, and we aren't denying that, but once we realize at a cellular level that Christ has delivered us from all sin and failure, shame and guilt, we no longer continue to put on the filthy robes stained with sin we used to wear. The old hymn advises, "Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin, and be washed in the blood of the Lamb. There's a fountain flowing for the soul unclean, O be washed in the blood of the Lamb." They like to sing the old hymns at Medicalodge, and one Sunday when I was leading them in this song, I had an epiphany while singing this verse. I saw in an instant that "the garments" we are to lay aside include negative, toxic thoughts, poor self image, damaged relationships, and anything else that keeps us locked away and blinded from beholding His glory.
Lenny was accepted into the VA Pain Clinic. We attended a session in Little Rock, AR, last week and watched a lengthy video prepared by the various doctors to explain how chronic pain is treated. I was interested to see that Medical Science has affirmed something I've long believed on a spiritual level, which is that what we think about a problem or situation, conclusions we draw about ourselves in relationship to the problem, may be as bad or worse than the problem itself.
Here's an example of what I mean. A friend sent an e-mail asking us to pray for one of his readers. This desperate woman wrote, "I am scared that God is punishing me for being an evil person by inflicting me with a horrible degenerative brain disease.... I am in torment all the time, thinking about a horrible death and then the possibility of what will happen to me afterwards. I cannot begin to explain the fear I feel, but also incredible sadness when I look at my family and think I will not see them grow up. I have cried out to God from the depths of my heart but I feel nothing. In fact, I have never felt the Holy Spirit so I don't think I was ever a Christian." End quote.
This woman has a serious medical problem, a degenerative brain disease, which would be bad enough, but she has compounded it by what she tells herself about it. From the Pain Clinic Video, we learned that anxious, scary, or dangerous situations bring up the fright or flight response. Most of us have heard about that, but I didn't realize the extent to which it affects the body physiologically. When faced with a severe or dangerous situation, the heart beats faster; the blood pressure increases; the adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys, pump adrenaline into the blood; the liver dumps glycogen into the blood stream so the muscles and brain have fuel to fight or flee, which gives the body a chance to survive. The example they gave was of the 65 year old woman who heard her son's distress calls when his car fell off the jacks and pinned him to the ground. She was able to lift the car off him so he could escape. It produced stress fractures in her vertebrae, but she saved his life. In a case like that, a one time thing, the effects of this physiology are beneficial, but think of the long term effects of someone pumping poisonous thoughts like this woman's into her consciousness day after day, month after month, year after year. It's a wonder she's still alive!
The reality is that this woman is being salted by fire, and my prayer for her is that our Father opens her eyes to see that it is happening for her good and His glory, not to punish her or kill her, but to bring her to herself, her real self: a child of God. Her "chaff" or "lopped off branches" whichever metaphor you prefer, are being consigned to the flames. There's nothing about the fire of God to be afraid of, but the church has made it scary because fear is good for business: fear sells, be it life insurance, seat belts, or salvation.
Paul spoke of our works being tested by fire; those not based upon Christ, will be burned up, but we ourselves will be saved, as by fire (I Cor. 3:13-15). He also refers to our "salting with fire" as a "temporary affliction," which will work "an eternal weight of glory." God's glorious gain overcomes our pain.
Father, we thank You for being our everything, for being our all and in all the circumstances of our lives. We had heard about you by the hearing of the ear, but now, open our eyes to see you as You are so that we may be like You. In Christ, we bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. In His name we ask it, Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
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This page was uploaded to the web on 05/08/07
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 05/18/07.