I admit I’m a bit of a pyromaniac. Fire has always fascinated me—the color, the movement, the power to warm, the power to burn, the smell, the sound, the light. We always seem to have a fire going here on the farm somewhere. We burn our paper waste in the barrel by the barn. We burn candles all year long. We keep fires lit in the hearth in winter and in the backyard fire pit in summer.
Summer fires are my favorite. We have this circle of field stones embraced by pines to the south and horse pasture to the west. Adirondack chairs surround. And we sit around the fire, watching the sun set, silhouetting trees, turning west sky orange and pink and purple—all swirled together like watercolor paint on canvas. Sky darkens and the stars come out sparkling. Venus hovers bright.
And we sit and stare into flames burning wood, watching embers glow beneath and sparks fly and ashen fragments float up and away. Fireflies swarm, twinkling lights in the fields.
There’s nothing like a good fire.
And I think of God when I see flames. He appeared to Moses in flames of fire from within a bush (Exodus 3:2). He led the Israelites through the desert in fire pillar by night (Exodus 13:21). The glory of God settled on Mount Sinai where He called Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites below the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain (Exodus 24:17).
A consuming fire who consumes what He wants. A consuming fire who is able to NOT consume. Who but God can control the elements like this? Who but God has the power to harness fire and make it NOT consume?
Then God directs the Israelites to make burnt offerings, sacrifices for their sins, living animals that will be burned in flame (Exodus 29:18).
“Burn it on the altar, as an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD.” All through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy we read this directive repeatedly. The Israelites were closely acquainted with fire and sacrifice and offering. Forgetful beings as we are, God uses repetition to teach, to help us remember, to never let us forget.
Have we forgotten Old Testament ways? Have we forgotten the richness of ritual? Have we forgotten about fire and sacrifice and offering?
We say Jesus did away with all that. That’s right. He is our once and for all, complete, sin-atoning sacrifice. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves—to make ourselves holy enough to come into the holy presence of God. Nothing. Old Testament sacrifice foreshadows Christ’s atoning sacrifice and prepares the way for His entrance into the world, His ministry here on earth, His walk to Calvary, His complete and sufficient payment of our ransom on the cross, His once-and-for-all victory over the death curse. We are saved by grace, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Do we say “Thanks!” and go on our merry way living as we please, maybe questioning occasionally if what pleases us pleases God? Do we ever?
Have we forgotten how to live every moment with realization of the profound cost so we could live each moment here and in eternity with our holy God?
Where has the fire in our bellies gone? How have we become so lukewarm? Why have we become so comfort driven?
Are we not to be ablaze for God, shining bright in this darkening world? Salt of the earth? Are we not to be showing others that true life and ushering in God’s kingdom on earth comes through sacrifice, not self-indulging pleasure? Can we so simply disregard Old Testament as antiquated and inapplicable to New Testament Christianity?
I’m meditating on fire. Consuming fire. Sacrificial fire. Pleasing aroma. Isn’t it supposed to be ourselves we put on the altar and allow God to consume with His holy fire, making a pleasing aroma? Isn’t it ourselves—everything yet unholy, unsanctified—that we are called to place on the altar and let Him burn? That’s what the original meaning of sacrifice is—to make holy/sacred/pure by putting our carnal nature on the altar and allowing God to burn it pure and raise us up as wholly one with Him, the Holy one.
What’s our first reaction to that?
I’d rather not think about it?
I don’t think this applies to me?
Does the One who gave all for us not deserve to be given our all?
I am pointing no fingers except at myself. I confess I have had and still have all these reactions. I don’t live often enough, willing to put myself on the altar, and ask our consuming fire God to burn up my chaff and make me a completely pleasing aroma. I confess. I repent. I ask God this day to teach me again—to remind me why I’m here—the purpose for which He saved me—to help me place myself on the altar because I can’t even do THIS on my own.
And what am I afraid of anyway? That I’ll cease to be? That the Great Consuming Holy Fire might scorch me and scar me and maim me?
I’m already scorched and scarred and maimed!
That’s what He wants to burn off!
For Heaven’s sake! For God’s sake! For others’ sake! For MY sake!
HELP ME ONTO THE ALTAR, O MY GOD, AND WITH YOUR HOLY FIRE, CONSUME MY WOUNDS AND MY SINS AND MY EVERYTHING YOU DECIDE IS NECESSARY, SO I CAN BE A PLEASING AROMA TO YOU AND OTHERS—AND SO I CAN LIVE—REALLY LIVE—TRUE TO YOU AND TRUE TO HOW YOU CREATED ME TO BE. I WANT TRUE LIFE—A LIFE CONSUMED BY YOU. SET ME AFLAME!