Setting Yourself on Fire

Difficulty and pain sometimes come from others, and challenges to the Lordship of Jesus often come from our unique circumstances.

But what if it was something we’ve done?

I remember the classic picture of a Buddhist monk who sat in the middle of a street. He was serene as he soaked himself with gasoline, and lit himself on fire as a protest against a war he believed was wrong and evil. He burned himself in front of the cameras.

All too often we’re pretty much responsible for our own self-immolation. It is we (and we alone) that set ourselves ablaze. Sin affects our minds and hearts. We set ourselves on fire.

When we sin– when we walk in ‘known’ disobedience we always put ourselves in an awful place. We love it but learn to hate it too. But we continue to do it regardless of the awful death that ensues.

God promises to forgive us. Out of our ashes, He keeps bringing us life and hope.

You can be forgiven. You can find life again, even if you’re fully responsible for the evil we’ve done to yourself. Yes, we all sin, and yes we walk in our own personal rebellion. But Jesus knows it all. These awful things we’ve all done can be forgiven.

As a man and a preacher of the Gospel, I realize that I often choose to sin. In spite of all I know and teach I realize that I can live in the ashes of my own making. As one who also struggles with bipolar, I understand that I’m even more susceptible to doing awful things. I understand that I choose darkness even though others will call me “a man of God.”

As you read this I’m praying that you find His forgiveness and mercy. You’ve come a long way it seems, but you must see His blood that was ‘released’ from His veins and arteries for you.

He desperately loves you–even if you’ve set yourself on fire, and sit in the ashes of your doing.

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.

Isaiah 61:3

Am I Like Peter?

To follow Him can be really hard. There doesn’t seem to be any contingency plan for any who are looking to escape such a drastic call. Jesus either is, or He isn’t our Lord. “Do you also want to leave?” This is a question that will be asked to every disciple–sometimes once, and sometimes repeatedly.

There are these crystalline moments when I must make a decision. Will I take up my cross and go with Him? There doesn’t seem to be any room in Jesus’ band for ‘almost’ disciples. That scares me sometimes.

Being obedient is far from easy. Today’s cross is waiting for me. I’m afraid at times that I won’t be able to take the next step as a true follower. Am I just fooling myself?

All of heaven seems to stand on tiptoe to see what I’m going to do next.

Who am I really?

“After this, many of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance:

“Do you also want to leave?”

“Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:66-69, The Message

Image from Wikipedia, verses are from The Message Bible by Eugene Peterson.

God’s Red Bull

We are told to press in, and to reach. 

We’re to be energized by contact with God’s Spirit.  He fills us up, enables us to run full tilt, stretching and straining.  The muscles in the neck popping out, and lunging for the tape. This is Paul’s understanding of his daily walk.

Paul was an athlete in the Spirit.

These days, developing a spiritual athleticism would not be such a bad idea.  We live in a society where we sit and watch the NFL: there are 22 men on the field, desperately in need of rest, and they’re surrounded by 50,000 people desperately in need of exercise.  We have become a society of observers and that is a shame. 

God loves us, sent his only Son to die for us.  God sets us up with a energy-packed, Red Bull. And I respond with an anemic, 2% milk religion.  And that perhaps is the real tragedy.

There’s a real tendency for entropy as a follower of Jesus.  Things have a real tendency to wind down, and start moving in the opposite direction.  I think all of us can relate to the “Sunday Syndrome.” In this truly wonderful world of fellowship, worship and the Word we seem to come together.  Life is good on a Sunday morning.  And it should be.

But we wind down, and by Thursday we have sinned and compromised a hundred times or more.  Life is not good on a Thursday afternoon.  Because of our mental illness this degradation downward is usually worse.  We experience a whole lot of shame and guilt. And that poisons our spirits.  

Throw into the mix some depression, anxiety, or OCD and it makes consistency even harder.  It’s a challenge to maintain a credible Christian walk. It’s kind of the deflated feeling  four hours after downing three Red Bulls.

Paul, always an interesting fellow, described his own personal walk with Jesus in Philippians 3:10f. in the Message Bible.

10-11I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.

 12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this…

...but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. 

Can you really tap into all of that energy? 

Paul is downright aggressive here, he models a “muscular Christianity” that pushes through every obstacle, whether within or without.  Most of our translations use the word “work” when translating “effort”.  The Church fathers used the word “energy” instead.  There is a distinction. 

Energy, or “energize” denotes an outside source for power.  I energize my electric razor when I plug it in at night.  It takes a charge and runs accordingly on demand.

We are told to press in, and to reach. 

We’re to be energized by contact with God’s Spirit.  He fills us up, enables us to run full tilt, stretching and straining.  The muscles in the neck popping out, and lunging for the tape. This is Paul’s understanding of his daily walk.

Paul was an athlete in the Spirit.

These days, developing a spiritual athleticism would not be such a bad idea.  We live in a society where we sit and watch the NFL: there are 22 men on the field, desperately in need of rest, and they’re surrounded by 50,000 people desperately in need of exercise.  We have become a society of observers and that is a shame. 

God loves us, sent his only Son to die for us.  God sets us up with a energy-packed, Red Bull. And I respond with an anemic, 2% milk religion.  And that perhaps is the real tragedy.

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