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Sermon illustrations

Fire

All Flame

There’s a story told in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers…Abba Lot said to Abba Joseph, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?”

In answer to Lot’s question, Joseph “stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven.” As he did so, “his fingers became like ten lamps of fire,” and he said to Lot, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Andrew Arndt, All Flame: Entering into the Life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, NavPress, 2020.

A Consuming Fire

“Holy, holy, holy.” What are they saying? Have you ever wondered that? What does that mean? Many people have tried to understand what God’s holiness means. Some describe it as his perfect morality. God’s holiness means he is sinless and untouched by corruption, which of course is true. But do you imagine the angels essentially crying out, “Moral, moral, moral is the LORD of hosts!” That doesn’t quite seem to capture what’s happening. It seems to domesticate it a bit, doesn’t it? Others have tried to explain it through the category of the “complete Other”—that God is Creator, eternal, but we are not.

We are creatures, finite in our being. The Bible seems to say over and over and over that there is no one like God, no one beside him, no equal in worth, being, and power. Yes, we must agree, God is the God of otherness. But when we then imagine again our seraphim singing “Other, other, other,” something is still missing.

When the Bible seeks to explain God’s holiness, it says that God is a “consuming fire” (Exodus 24:17; Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29)—a dangerous and terrible presence. The presence of not just a fire that warms our hands and charms our campsites, but a consuming fire. Turn away! And so the angels do. When Isaiah encounters this God, he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost;” (Isaiah 6:5). Translations differ: “I am lost!” or “I am undone!” or “I am ruined!” Something is coming apart in Isaiah in the presence of God. Yet, at the same time, Isaiah and the seraphim don’t flee the terrible presence. The danger is real, but obviously so is the splendor. So terrifying and attractive, so immense and wonderful is God. So much so, when God is looking for someone to go to his people on his behalf, Isaiah says, “Here I am! Send me” (v. 8)

Taken from The Possibility of Prayer: Finding Stillness with God in a Restless World by John Starke Copyright (c) 2020 by John Starke. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com.

 

“FIRE”

We must journey to the edge of heat if we would catch the flame. When Blaise Pascal died in 1662, his servant found a scrap of paper hidden in the lining of his coat. It turned out to be a testimony of something that had happened eight years earlier: “From about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve FIRE…

Whatever happened to him that Monday night, “FIRE” was all Pascal could say about it. For two whole hours, nothing but fire. Not the fire of philosophers and scholars but the fire of God. And when the fire has burned through us, our passion is the evidence that we are aflame with significance.

Calvin Miller, The Sermon Maker: Tales of a Transformed Preacher, Harper Collins Publishers, p.34.

Leadership in the Forge

In 1992, my wife and I traveled to Prague, Czech Republic. One day, near the end of our trip, Beth and I walked through Staroměstské náměstí, a large central square. There in the middle of the square were two artisans who were drawing a sizable crowd to watch them ply their craft. They took pieces of scrap iron, discards, and by first heating them until they were soft and pliable, and then held securely on the anvil, they were pummeled and pounded into a new shape. The process repeated: fire, steel, sweat; heating, holding, forming; placed, pounded, and finally, plunged into water. I watched those artisans—so physical, so purposeful, so violent with hammer and inferno, so precise and exacting. They seemed a living icon of God. For we are the raw material, scraps of hardened, resisting steel. And they, the craftsmen, are so like God in precision and purpose, using the heat of challenges, the anvil of community, and the hammer of practices to transform us from raw material into something useful and beautiful.

… What was once raw material becomes, under the hand of the smith and through the heat of the forge, a new creation that is both pure and mixed, with a new purpose but with nothing lost of its original makeup. Through an age-old process from a previous century, we find a glimpse of what must happen in our lives if we are going to be able to lead—and thrive—in leading.

Taken from Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change by Tod E Bolsinger. Copyright (c) 2021 by Tod E Bolsinger. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com