You have probably noticed that things in our world are going . . . not great.
- War in Ukraine
- Global inflation
- Political unrest
- Violence in schools and neighborhood throughout our country
- Racial tension
- and every day there seems to be more
All of this is overwhelming.
With all of this going on we also have people who are serving as arsonist trying to stoke the flames because it makes them feel powerful and important. I think there’s a reason we have come to call the quick positions that people make “hot takes.” People want to keep the fires burning so they can be seen. When the world is full of darkness, the fires may give us a sense of power, control, significance.
But at the end of every fire is ash and destruction.
So how can we live differently when the world is on fire?
I have been wrestling with some fire imagery in the Bible. I am in no way trying to create a comprehensive list, but there are a few things that I have been thinking about.
The Apostle Peter talks about the refining power of fire:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1 Pe 1:3–7.
Peter’s audience was enduring hardship and persecution. But God was sustaining them by his mercy. This is a wonderful promise. God sustains us in a world on fire. These early believers were holding on to their faith in the goodness of God and his promised inheritance. They were being transformed through their trials as they learned to depend on Jesus. As they held on their faith was proved genuine.
Every year my wife chooses a theme word. A couple of years ago she chose “genuine.” She wanted her faith to be genuine, she wanted her relationships to be genuine, she wanted her words to be genuine. This was not an easy thing to do, and there were tests to her commitment to that theme. But the Lord Jesus sustained her, and she is (and was) the most genuine person I Know. Fire has a way of removing the filler and the false things in our lives. There are things that need to be removed.
When the world is on fire, are there things that you are willing to let go of? Fire seasons should remind us to hold on to the essentials, and lean into our faith in Jesus.
Another passage that I have been drawn to lately is from 1 Corinthians. I am grieved by the celebrity culture in our world, and I’m grieved by the celebrity culture in the church. When reading the New Testament I am reminded that this is not new. Paul addresses this as different factions are developing around leaders. It doesn’t seem like this is something that any of the leaders wanted, but humanity has a knack for idol making. Paul reminds the Corinthians that the works of every Christian leader, and probably every Christian, will be judged by fire.
11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1 Co 3:11–15.
When the world is on fire, we should evaluate what we are building and the quality of our materials. If we are trying to build on anything other than the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus, we will fail. If we are building with things that may be quick and look impressive, are they really going to last the fire season?
Let’s keep pursing the things that are going to last, and build with those things that have proven to be true. It may not be exciting, it may not get a ton of attention from social media, but we are not building our lives and our ministry for likes from strangers on the internet. We are building our lives on the gospel of Jesus so that when we run our race he will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I have one more passage that I have been thinking about. The theme of exile has weighed heavy on my heart and mind lately. In the Old Testament we read that the people of Israel were in exile for decades. First the Assyrians came and took the northern tribes out of the land, then the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom, and then the Persians and the Medes defeated the Babylonians. Empires came and went. But the people of God were transformed through the exile.
There is one story in particular. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three young men were taken from their homes, and placed into a kind a academic service for the Emperor. They were gifted students and the empire was willing to exploit them in an effort to strengthen the kingdom. During this time the King made a massive idol of himself. It was his advisors idea, and because leaders are egomaniacs it seemed like a good idea to him. The advisors were looking for a way to get rid of these young men so they came up with a plan to trap Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When the music plays, everyone was supposed to worship the idol, whoever didn’t would be executed.
Our three young men were faithful to the LORD and their enemies knew they would refuse to bow down. So they music play, Shacrach, Meshach, and Abednego, didn’t bow, they were arrested, and they were brought before the king. The plan of execution was to throw them into a furnace that was so hot it would kill the people who opened the hatch. The king was trapped in his own laws and so he has to throw these three men in the fire. Nebuchadnezzar interrogates them and their reply is wonderful.
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Da 3:16–18.
They trusted the God would save them. But even if God didn’t save them they were still going to refuse to bow down.
When the world is on fire, don’t bow to our cultural idols. So much of the fires in our world are started with a spark of idolatry. Money, power, status, sexuality, these are all idols in our age. None of these idols are worth submitting to. Can we live differently? Can we live set apart lives? Don’t bow down.
So the the men are thrown in the furnace and everyone is sure they will die, however:
King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”
They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”
25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.
28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Da 3:24–28.
God saved them. Nebuchadnezzar recognized the Lord’s hand at work, and calls this rescuer an angel. Christian tradition often says that this fourth man is an Old Testament appearance of Christ. Whether this is an angel, or the Son of God, doesn’t change the fact that God is a rescuer.
When the world is on fire we can’t look to culture, leaders, idols, or whatever to save us. We need to have confidence that the Lord can save his people. Following Jesus today is risky, but that is why we call it faith. We need to trust in the Lord above all else.
The world is on fire all around us, but I know this:
God is not done. And after the fire, there is possibility for something new and vibrant to take root.