Fanning the Flames

In the Old Testament, the experience of God’s presence was largely geographic.  He appeared in the Holy Land, the Holy City, and the Holy of Holies in the Holy Temple.  On more than one occasion, God’s presence was indicated by fire.  For example, God spoke to Moses from the burning bush.  “[Moses] looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed…When the Lord saw that Moses turned to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush, and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ and he said, ‘Here I am.’  Then God said, ‘Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ ” (Ex 3:2,4,5).

After Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, God again appeared in the form of a fire.  “And the Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.  He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people” (Ex 13:21-22).

God appeared again to the Israelites in a fire upon Mt Sinai at the giving of the ten commandments.  Moses recounted the experience in Deuteronomy 4:11-13, “And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens:  darkness, cloud, and thick gloom.  Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form – only a voice.  So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the ten commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.”  Later, in the chapter, Moses highlighted the uniqueness of that experience with a rhetorical question, “Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived?” (Dt 4:33).

In the New Testament, under the new arrangement of the new covenant, God again appears by fire but in a very different way.  “And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent, rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1-4).

God again makes an appearance by fire.  But instead of being confined to a burning bush, a pillar by night, or a mountain enveloped by smoke, God’s fire is now distributed upon us, His disciples.  Can you believe it?  God Himself – the speaking fire, the guiding fire, the powerful fire – is resting upon you.  Not only on you, but in you through the filling of God, the Holy Spirit.

You carry the flame of God’s supernatural life within you.  Our prayer is that in some small way we can fan the flame that already exists in the new you.  Won’t you join us in being spiritual pyromaniacs, if you will, for each other.  I think that is the spirit of Hebrews 10:25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  Get out that big piece of cardboard and let’s fan the flames together.

It is About You

The most succinct summary of the gospel message starts with, “For God so loved the world, that…” (Jn 3:16).  God’s immeasurable love for the world drove Him to complete the verse with “…He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  God is clearly the subject of this verse.  God loved.  God gave.  But notice the object of the opening phrase: “the world.”  Yes, you and I are the direct objects, to use a grammar term, of God’s incredible love.

In our consumerist culture and selfish society, we feel a responsibility to drive home the point, “It’s not about us, not about you, not about me.”  But putting theology and good grammar together, it is about us.  It is about us.  This in no way diminishes the greatness of God.  The greatest being you can imagine would still fall short of the God of the Bible.  He is singularly unique, holy, and off-the-charts righteous.  What makes us so special is not our inherent worth by comparison or what we contribute to the relationship.  What makes us special is that we are the objects of God’s unlimited love.

God is love in His essence (I Jn 4).  It is His most outstanding and incomprehensible attribute.  (His holiness is not so much an attribute as a definition of His singular uniqueness.)  Can you imagine how deep, how high, and how wide the love of God is?  Paul says that its “breadth and length and height and depth…are beyond comprehension” (Eph 3:18,19).  The writers of the Bible, religious scholars through the ages, and songwriters all struggle to describe the vastness of the love of God.

And that love is directed like a lasar beam upon you.  When you embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you join into a marriage relationship with Christ.  You join the literal bride of Christ, the universal church.  It would have been foolish during the recent royal wedding for a commentator to say that this wedding ceremony and celebration has nothing to do with Kate Middleton since she is only joining the royal family by marriage.  Did you watch the television coverage?  It was all about the bride.  Why?  Because she was the object of the prince’s love and that was enough to lift her to prominence.

You are the object of a prince’s love.  “The Prince of Peace, the Eternal Father, the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God” (Is 9:6).  As the object of His love, you are indeed special.  Not just the Mr. Rogers type special, but really really really special.

Authority and Friendship

Grace based parenting is about finding the balance between love and control, celebration and responsibility, relationship and instruction, truth and grace.  It is about developing a well-rounded relationship with your children as both their authority figure and their friend.  It strikes a balance between well-meaning, but old covenant, advice that emphasizes your authority role at the expense of any friendship expectation and the experience of parents who error in the other direction.  These parents, desiring a friendship relationship with their children, have abdicated their authority and, not wanting to rock the boat, have lowered the standards at home driven by the desire to fit in better with the world.

God has given us a beautiful picture of an authority and friend relationship in none other than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Jesus said to His disciples in the upper room, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15).  Did you catch that?  Jesus Christ, Lord and Master, is calling you His friend if indeed you are a disciple, a Christ follower.

We imitate Christ when we parent with a balance of authority and friendship.  Somehow, Christ is my Master and Friend at the same time.  In the same way, you can lead your family from a combination of authority and friendship.

In To Love as God Loves, Roberta Bondi identifies a three step process whereby the early church learned obedience to Christ.  Step one is obeying Christ as a slave out of fear.  Step two is obeying Christ as a hired hand to receive a payment (reward).  Step three, as we progress in Christian maturity, is obeying Christ as a friend in a love relationship such that we want to please Him in all things.

Our parenting follows a similar pattern.  In the early years, we teach our children to obey out of fear of discipline.  As they grow older, we turn more to rewards to motivate good behavior and leave physical discipline behind.  Finally, if we have developed a relationship along the way, we expect obedience based on our love relationship as we approach the teenage years.  I had the joy of being raised in this kind of home and have the distinct memory of staying on the straight and narrow in my young adult years out of a desire to not disappoint my parents.  I gradually transferred my love relationship allegiance to my Master and Friend; Jesus Christ.

Parenting.  It’s all about balance.  Not just because I have seen it work, but because I believe bringing a new balance to all of life is one of the million beautiful things that happened to us when Jesus rescued us.  Praise to our Lord, Savior, and Friend; Jesus Christ.

New Identity Parenting

When we have been captured by the message of our supernatural identity in Christ, it will have a dramatic effect on our parenting.  What we bring to the parenting equation in our natural man is a volatile mixture of sin (a self focus), nurture (possible negative influences in how we were raised), and nature (our personalities, natural bent, etc).  These influences generally steer us toward extremes of legalism or license in our parenting.  Extremes of discipline or permissiveness.  When the gospel of Jesus Christ comes into our lives, rather than adding something good to our volatile combination, Christ redeems the mixture and creates something brand new.

What this something new looks like in your family is called grace.  It is grace based living.  It is grace based parenting.  Parenting with grace is not another to-do list.  It is a mindset.  A renewed mindset.  It is a thought process where we approach parenting with a godly, thought-through plan.  By thinking ahead as a couple, we are prepared for challenges and respond with grace rather than our knee-jerk natural reaction.  Parenting with grace is unnatural (it’s supernatural, really) so it must be deliberate.  It is out of step with our culture so we must be prepared to go against the flow.  It is following Christ as a couple and having the natural consequences of that discipleship spill over into our parenting.  It is bringing our children along in the adventure of faith.