09-14-2014 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
Fanning the Flame! (2)
Last week we talked about how God works in us and through us. We said that God’s work is supernatural—and you and I cannot do supernatural. God (and only God) can send the fire.
But you can decide what you will do with the fire. You can decide to partner with God in his work—or not. You choose to join with him in the supernatural—or you choose to stay on the sidelines.
We can work with God or we can work against God. What we can’t do is stay neutral. Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me…” (Luke 11:23)
So we saw last week that we really only have two options: you can “put out the Spirit’s fire” (1 Thess 5:19) or you can “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Tim 1:6).
Eddie Christian is famous around here for his skill with fire. If you want a good, roaring campfire, call Eddie. Last fall at our Trunk-or-Treat, while others were serving up hot chocolate or hot dogs or giving hay rides, Eddie’s job was to keep the fire going in the fire pit. He’d add wood and stir the embers.
I’m not that good with campfires. I’m much too conservative. I skimp on the wood. We go camping and about the time we finish the last Smor, the fire is finished too. Just a few pathetic embers left to burn out.
But Eddie knows how to pile on the fuel and keep a good fire going: you don’t skimp; you don’t hold back; you can’t be conservative.
There’s a lesson there for us. If you want to see the fire of God, you can’t hold back. You have a choice to make: play it safe or go all out; hold back or give your all.
If we decide to go all out and fan the flame, then God will do great things! He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph 3:20).
You may be thinking, What if I don’t feel all that powerful? What if I don’t see him at work within me? What if I can’t feel the fire?
Great question! Because we’ve all felt something like that one time or another. So how does God send the fire? How can we catch fire? How does a church catch fire?
Long ago in ancient Israel a man named Elijah called down the fire of God. You’ll find the story in 1 Kings 18. IF YOU HAVE YOUR BIBLES, turn to it. It’s a story with great lessons for us!
Elijah was a prophet. He spoke God’s words with authority. One day, because the people had abandoned the Lord, Elijah announced there would be a drought across the land (17:1)—no rain, no crops. He gave his message…and then he went into hiding.
For nearly three years there was no rain. The gardens withered and died. The crops in the fields dried up. There was no harvest. The soil became parched and dusty. The creeks and streams dribbled away to nothing. People became desperate. Their very survival was at stake.
Then God told Elijah to go speak to the king (18:1). So Elijah went to meet King Ahab, who accused the prophet of troubling the land (18:17). But Elijah turned his words back on him: “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the LORD’s commands and have followed the Baals.” (18:18)
Then he issued a challenge to King Ahab: Get all the people together on Mount Carmel. Make sure all the prophets of Baal and the prophets of the Asherah are there. We’ll have a big showdown to see whose god is real.
So the day came and a huge crowd assembled on Mount Carmel—Elijah on one side and the false prophets on the other: 950 to 1. The people all stood there, waiting to see what would happen.
Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. (18:21)
Here we see the problem:the people couldn’t make up their minds. Their loyalties were divided between the Lord and the popular gods of the culture around them.
The old KJV says, “How long halt ye between two opinions?” Other versions use a literal translation (such as, “limping between the two sides” [ASV]). Perhaps it was an expression in the old Hebrew language—just as we might say, How long are you going to sit on the fence?
Or as one version puts it: “How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision?” (NET)
The problem was they had one foot in each world. They were afraid of committing themselves all the way; they wanted the best of both worlds. They wanted the gods of the popular culture—Baal and the Asherah poles of the people around them. But they also wanted the Lord…just in case—like a spare tire in the trunk in case one of your regular tires goes flat and lets you down.
Is this a problem today? Do we see people sitting on the fence, afraid to commit? Do we see people doing their own thing, ignoring the Lord—until their plans don’t work out? until they get into trouble? Then they take God out like a spare tire. They want his help—for a while, in an emergency—but only until things get back to normal. Then they put him back in the trunk, waiting for the next emergency.
We just remembered the anniversary of 9-11. Do you remember what it was like 13 years ago? Do you remember how that attack shocked our nation out of lethargy? Do you remember the angish and the soul-searching? Spontaneous prayer gatherings sprung up across the land.
Some said it was the start of a revival, the nation turning back to God. And the following Sunday, church attendance spiked throughout the nation. But sadly, as a nation we’ve pretty much gone back to the way things were before. Business as usual. As a nation we look to Homeland Security to guard us from terrorists. We depend on the CIA for intelligence. But as a nation we don’t depend on God.
Until the next big event. Then there will be more shock and more hand-wringing.
Don’t misunderstand me. I really don’t expect a secular, pluralistic nation to act like a theocracy. But within this land are a large number of people who call themselves Christians—followers of Jesus—who can be a remnant of loyal, committed servants of the Lord who can make a difference.
All too often, however, the church is more affected by the culture than the culture is influenced by the church! The church is often infected by the same problem Elijah faced: half-hearted commitment, divided hearts, divided loyalties, people who chase after gods of this culture while keeping the Lord in their hip pocket…just in case, people who want to ride the fence, people who continue to waver between two opinions.
But if your relationship with God is merely like a spare tire to pull out when you need extra help, don’t count on it. If you keep God tucked away in a box, neatly contained while you do your own thing, don’t expect that you can pull him out when you need something—like rubbing a magic lantern and asking a genie to grant a wish.
God loves you so much that he sent his Son to die for you! He loves you so much that he wants a relationship with you! He’s not interested in being your genie in a bottle or your spare in the trunk.
So Elijah confronted the problem head on—but the people said nothing. Maybe they didn’t know what to say. Maybe they felt guilty. At any rate, Elijah proposed a solution to the problem of half-hearted commitment: Let’s see which god shows up, he said, Baal or Yahweh—the LORD.
23“Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” Then all the people said, “What you say is good.” (18:23-24)
Elijah knew the false gods had no power whatsoever; Baal couldn’t prove himself because he wasn’t real! But Elijah had a real relationship with a real God! He knew the LORD could prove himself.
25Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. 27At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. (18:25-29)
Not too long ago we did a series of messages on “American Idols”—on the false gods of our modern society. Here’s the thing: if you trust in false gods or depend on human solutions, you will inevitably be disappointed. The false gods of our society will let you down. drugs, drink, entertainment, money, success, possessions, self, science, education, politics, even religion—the things humans have devised, both good and bad, eventually come up short.
Obviously, society has done a lot of good things. There are good, well-intentioned people doing loving, kind things for others. There are agencies and programs that make a difference for good. But in the end, despite all the good you can do, at the end of life your human efforts will come up short.
Do you know why? Because good intentions cannot change a sinful heart. No matter how hard you try, you’re still a sinner. Someone has said, Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.How true!
A few years ago I read about a man who was sentenced by the court to attend an anger management group. A good thing. A great goal—to get control over a hair-trigger temper. One problem. He said something in the anger management group that upset the leader. In fact, the leader got so ticked off that he attacked the smart mouth. Hit him. Arrested for assault. Good intentions, even good training, don’t change human nature.
When you call on false gods, at the end of the day, no one answers, no one pays attention.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins. (18:30)
Elijah said, “Come,” and they came. God invites you to come. He wants you to come. He doesn’t want you to hold back, watching from a distance, living on the edges. God wants an intimate, powerful connection with you. If you’re far from God, listen to the words of the prophet: “Come.”
Then Elijah repaired the altar (which was in ruins). The altar was a symbol of commitment. But it was in ruins because their commitment was gone.
Altars were built when people reached a major milestone on their journey with God. They built altars dedicating themselves to God: Noah after the flood (Gen 8:20); Abram after God’s promise (Gen 12:7); Isaac when he met with God (Gen 26:25); Jacob with his vision of a ladder to heaven (Gen 35:7); Moses at Mount Sinai after receiving the Law (Exo 24:4); Gideon when he saw the angel of the Lord (Jud 6:24); David when he repented of his sin (2 Sam 24:25).
Altars were where they made sacrifices to worship God and commit themselves. Altars were where people confessed and repented of their sin. Altars were where wrongs were made right. Where justice took place (blood was spilled) so forgiveness could be given.
We need an altar today! In fact, we have such an altar…and its name is Calvary.
Elijah rebuilt the altar with 12 stones—a reminder of their spiritual heritage: 12 tribes from the 12 sons of Jacob. The story inserts a parenthetical note from history (18:31) about Jacob, “The Deceiver”—the one who pulls your leg, the trickster—who got into trouble and had to run from his brother. Returning home years later, he had a meeting with God—wrestled all night. In the morning, God gave him a new name: Israel, meaning, “He struggles with God.” Jacob was transformed—changed into Israel.
Elijah’s altar of 12 stones reminded them of their spiritual heritage. We also need to return to our spiritual heritage and recall our spiritual roots, the transforming power of God through the cross!
After building the altar, arranging the wood, and cutting the bull into pieces and laying it on the wood, Elijah drenched the altar with water—four large jars poured over the sacrifice three times. He wanted no doubt that God was a powerful God. He wanted no question, no skeptics who might think he’d pulled some sort of magic trick.
Then Elijah prayed a simple prayer.
36At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (18:36-37)
Elijah’s prayer was amazingly unlike the prayer of the false prophets who had shouted and danced and worked themselves into a religious frenzy, even cutting themselves to gain spiritual favor.
Elijah’s prayer had power not because of its volume or intensity or emotion or the hoops he jumped through; his prayer had power because of whom it was directed to. When you commit yourself to God, you can expect God to do great things—not because of who you are, but because of who he is!
Elijah prayed for fire, but really he asked for so much more: (1) that the people would know that the LORD was God; (2) that they would know that God was turning their hearts back again to him.
38Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 39When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” (18:38-39)
Like a bolt out of the blue (there were no clouds!) God’s fire fell. It obliterated the sacrifice the wood, the stones, and even the ground around it. The trench that had filled with water—gone!
The people were stunned! And in that moment, there was no more hesitation. No wavering between two opinions. They had seen enough. They had waited all day for Baal to do something, and nothing happened. Now, in a split second, the Lord literally alterred the landscape—and changed their hearts!
Before the people had said nothing. Now they had something to say! They fell on their faces and confessed: “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!”
What do you say? How will you respond? Will you meet with God on your own Mount Carmel? Will you rebuild the altar in your life? Will you abandon the Baals and the false gods of our society? Will you let God unleash his power and send his fire within you? Will you take that fire and fan the flame?