A CONSUMING FIRE

This past weekend, my husband and I spent a beautiful evening at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park where we enjoyed dinner at the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in Townsend, Tennessee, with our children and their spouses as we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.

dancing-bear-welcome
Greeting as you begin the entrance to the Dancing Bear Lodge and Appalachian Bistro Restaurant.

Then we spent the night at the Dancing Bear Lodge, all compliments of the children.  Yesterday we left the lodge rested, thanking the children for their thoughtful gift, and praising the Lord for the beauty of the mountains surrounding us.

dancing-bear-lodge-sign
Dancing Bear Lodge and Appalachian Bistro entrance, Townsend, Tennessee

As we drove back home, we saw the smoke from the forest fires that have been plaguing our area for the past several weeks.  We are in the midst of a severe drought and the mountain woods are dry creating the perfect setting for forest fires.  We stopped at a little store in the area and spoke with a police officer about the status of the fires.  He said that there were a couple of small spots still burning uncontrolled on the other side of the mountain but he did not know of any real concern at this point.

We continued on our 45 minute trip home and brought our things in from the car.  In the afternoon, we turned on the television to learn the upcoming weather and heard about a cold front that was coming and that would bring strong winds and rain.

We were aware that the wind had kicked up significantly because we experienced this as we were driving home.  The reality was that the wind was blowing in excess of 80 miles per hour in the high mountains.  One result of that strong wind was that embers were picked up and blown a long way, some over a mile from the fire source, where they landed on dry leaves and a whole new fire started.  A second result was that trees were blown over and when they hit power poles the fallen power lines fell on dry leaves and burst into flames.

In short, in just 15 minutes, there were multiple new fires all burning out of control and all headed toward the resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, two vacation tourist areas adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

The fires were all-consuming.  This morning, the report is that well over 100 structures have been destroyed, including resorts, free-standing restaurants, and multi-story hotels.  The firefighters have not been able to get up into the mountains to check on how many homes have been destroyed, but there were over 1,000 people staying in shelters after mandatory evacuation orders were given for their protection.

Watching the videos taken from cars as they were driving down the mountain roads with fires on both sides of the street reminded me of the Scripture describing God as a “consuming fire”.

In Deuteronomy 4:23-24 we read this warning:

Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you.  For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

We think of God as our Father, and for the believer He certainly is that because of the salvation we have through Jesus Christ our Lord.  He loves His people and has done everything that He can do to protect us and bring us to eternal life with Him.

But we often don’t remember that He is a jealous God. He wants us to worship Him alone.  We are not to worship idols that replace His rightful place in our life.    Those idols are insidious, they interject themselves into our lives in what is seemingly innocuous ways.  For example:

  • Family – we love our families and we take care of them, indeed, Scripture tells us to do so. The family is a gift from God.  But when our family pushes God out of the picture, the family is now a forbidden idol.
  • Money – we are told in Scripture to work so that we can take care of ourselves and our family and so that we can donate funds to help others. Money is good.  But, when money becomes our god so that we hoard it, we strive to get more and more, we look to it for our security and happiness, when we take pride in how much we have accumulated without recognition that all things come from God, money has now become a forbidden idol.
  • Fame – we want to be well known so that we can spread the gospel to others, something that Scripture tells us to do. But, when we seek fame for our own glory, when we believe that we have accomplished these things on our own without acknowledging God’s role in our success, we have made fame a forbidden idol.

The list could go on and on, but the point is that God will not tolerate idols in our lives.

In Hebrews 12:28-29, the writer tells us this:

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

We are to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

A series of natural events collided in East Tennessee causing devastation and loss by fire  — extreme drought and dry conditions, strong winds whipping embers to new locations, downed trees cutting power lines thereby igniting leaves below.  I pray that we would search our own lives to see if there are any activities or conditions that would collide with our love for God — effectively pushing God out of our lives or diminishing our trust and devotion to Him.

I pray that

  • our worship is acceptable to God and that we come to Him in reverence and awe of His majesty, power, glory and honor.
  • we come to Him with contrite hearts, asking for forgiveness for our sin and seeking His power to live lives that are acceptable to Him.
  • we would worship and seek His face when we interact with others to spread the gospel.
  • we would seek His mighty hand to stop the raging forest fires and that He would comfort and strengthen those who have suffered such significant injury and loss.

Father, please put out Your hand and stop the devastating forest fires now raging in East Tennessee.  I thank You and there have been only a few injuries and no fatalities at this point, and I pray that You would protect those who are in harm’s way as well as those who are fighting these fires.  I pray that You would give guidance to those who are directing the rescue efforts and that You would sustain the workers with Your Spirit’s energy, love, compassion and strength. I also ask that You would encourage, comfort and strengthen those who have suffered loss during these fires.  Finally, I pray that You would bless these words and that those who read them would be encouraged and/or convicted by Your Spirit so that blessings will come this day.

THEY LIKE ‘EM BECAUSE THEY DON’T KNOW ANY BETTER.

We were getting ready for breakfast when my beloved said that he felt like having waffles.

Now, in our home, we never have waffles – I no longer have a waffle iron and when I did have one, the waffles were almost inedible because they either were burned to a crisp or stuck on the cooking surface so when you opened the waffle iron to retrieve the food, you had to scrape the stuff off onto the plate in a clump … not particularly waffle-like!

But, in looking through the freezer, I found a box of waffles that I had purchased for breakfast when the grandchildren were with us. Not exactly sure how long they had been under the vegetables in the freezer, but I got at least one “wife point” for having waffles when they were requested!

After I toasted them, I put them on the plate along with the syrup and apple butter and we were ready for breakfast.

One taste was all it took to know that these were not going to get a blue ribbon in the waffle baking competition. As we were eating them in silence, I looked at my beloved and said “at least the grandchildren like ‘em!”

His response was

“They like ‘em because they don’t know any better!”

That prompted me to remember the Lord’s Word when describing how often human-kind satisfies itself with something less than the best.

Scripture tells us that the Israelites in the wilderness did exactly this … they exchanged their relationship with the Holy God for idols of their own creation.   Having never been to the Holy Land, when I think of the wilderness, I picture the terrain we saw as we approached Albuquerque, New Mexico. [I don’t know if this looks like what the Israelites experienced, but it gives me a visual image that helps when I read the Word.]

Albuquerque desert places
Albuquerque desert places

This incident is recorded in Exodus 32 where the people were tired of waiting for Moses who had gone up the mountain to speak with God. The people asked Aaron to make a god for them to worship, and he took their gold and made the calf.

And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf.

And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.”   And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

Exodus 32:4-6.

God, of course, saw this and told Moses to go down the mountain and speak to the people before he destroyed them in his fury. Moses pleaded with God and total destruction was averted, but turning their backs on God to follow a man-made god is a pattern that repeated itself throughout the Old Testament.

In Psalm 106:20 we read:

“They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.”

We read this and think “How in the world could they do that? They had direct experience with the power of God as they were lead away from Pharaoh and as they wandered through the wilderness with ample provision of food and water. God lead them with the pillars of cloud and fire and His presence was resident in the tabernacle. How could they ignore all that and turn to idols that they, themselves, had created?”

But before we point fingers, we need to look at ourselves. We may not have seen God’s hand as they did, but Paul tells us that all people have knowledge of God and His power just by looking at creation. This is called general revelation. Some examples of the variety of our God’s creative powers can be seen here:

The exquisite detail of a butterfly.

Butterfly munching on strawberry
Butterfly munching on strawberry

The human newborn baby, a complete adult in miniature.

Newborn baby asleep
Newborn baby asleep

In Romans 1:20 we read:

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

The detail found in the myriad of beautiful flora and fauna in our world.

Beautiful flowers
Beautiful flowers

The majesty of mountain peaks, covered in snow even in June.

Mount Washington in distance, Oregon
Mount Washington in distance, Oregon

The ocean, peaceful power waiting to be unleashed.

Rugged Oregon coastline at the ocean
Rugged Oregon coastline at the ocean

Then, Paul tells what people have done, despite God’s creative general revelation that is available to all people.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Romans 1:21-23.

This exchange of the immortal for that which is mortal, finite and of minimal power is what was forbidden in Exodus 20:3-6 which are the first two of the Ten Commandments.  We are to have no other gods and we are not to make any carved image to bow down to it or serve it.

Stonehenge, burial area for ancient peoples
Stonehenge, burial area for ancient peoples

Stonehenge in England is thought to be an ancient site for burial and for processions related to the sun.

In Isaiah, the prophet quotes the message that God has for the people and in Isaiah 42 and 43 there is the repeated statement that God is the LORD. See for example,

Isaiah 43 verses 11 through 13 assert:

I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God. Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?”

Isaiah 42 verses 5 and 8 tell us:

Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: … “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”

While the grandchildren might be satisfied with old, frozen waffles because they have never had the fresh, hot and steaming with goodness real thing, we cannot say that our turning to idols is because we never had any knowledge of The Real Thing. God has given us every breath we take – God has created our universe and all that is in it. Each person, in their heart of hearts, knows that God is but this is a far cry from worshiping God in spirit and in truth.  Even people in our 21st century who are too urbane to believe in God, have decided that our world was created by “an intelligent being”.

Idols that man creates for himself may be wood or stone, but, in this day and time, they are probably a bit more intangible:

  • Fame
  • Popularity
  • Success in business
  • Recognition
  • Yourself
  • Big house, boat, car, whatever
  • Big bank account
  • Independence from anyone or anything

In comparison, the Living God who demands our worship:

  • is the one who created.
  • is the one who saves.
  • is the one who provides life.
  • is the one who is the Living God.
  • is the one who loves us with an everlasting love.
  • is the one who sent his Son to be our propitiation, our savior and our Lord.
  • is the omniscient, omnipresent, almighty God, and there is no other god before him.

When we worship our own gods, we are robbing God of what is rightfully his. We are unilaterally transferring honor, praise and glory to something far less than God. When we worship gods that cannot save or even reply, that cannot move or act on our behalf, that have no power over fire, wind or evil, we are guilty of sin against the Holy God, Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Let us repent and praise God for his grace, mercy and love, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Father, forgive me when I have traded my relationship with you for worshiping gods of my own making. When I have acted as though I am god, forgive me. When I have created gods of my own choosing, or when I am unintentionally worshiping something other than you, forgive me and point out my sin so that I may repent and be restored to a right relationship with you. I praise you and honor you, my Creator, my Savior, and my God.