Fan into Flames

March 27, 2021 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

When we lived in Southern California, a massive fire ravished the San Gabriel Mountains, destroying 1,000 homes and forcing many to evacuate. Rumor had it the fire was started by a cigarette casually flicked. Others said the fire was started by an arsonist. Regardless the source, the initial spark turned exponential until it devoured 90,000 acres, becoming the largest fire San Bernardino County had ever seen.

Fire is a powerful thing. When fed, it grows to unquenchable proportions, its heat radiating for miles. We’ve all heard stories of raging forest fires started by a single match. I’m sure we’ve also all experienced the frustration of trying to set kindling ablaze.

I’ve been on a handful camping trips, and try as I might, I can barely ignite a few measly twigs. I’ll use matches, gasoline and crumpled paper. I’ll blow and fan the air. I’ve tried leaves and straw, which initially catches only to smolder into a puff of black smoke. What’s the difference between my efforts and the 2004 forest fire that raged through Southern California?

Both started with a spark, yet one grew while the other dwindled. The difference, I believe, is the forest was ripe, ready to combust. We’d had little water and intense heat, so it didn’t take much to set the trees ablaze. Then came the wind, fueling the flames with a steady supply of oxygen until the entire forest blazed.

This image came to mind when I read 2 Timothy 1:6. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (NIV).

Paul tells Timothy to “fan into flames” the spiritual gift God gave him.

In essence, Paul was saying, “Lay it all on the line, Timothy. Don’t let anything hold you back from full surrender. When others pull away, step up. Burn like a wildfire!”

Note, he wrote this letter to Timothy, a man Paul loved like a son, from a prison cell. During a time of extreme persecution, when many might’ve been tempted to slip into hiding, Paul told Timothy to step it up.

I believe God is calling us to do the same. If we’ve accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior, we’ve got the spark of the Holy Spirit burning within us. But our heart is much like the trees in a forest. We share the same flame, but some trees are more combustible than others. Some are doused in flame-retardants—sin, distractions, and all those temporary fillers that steal our time and dull our hearts—others are ready to ignite.

What’s your heart like? Is it prepared to be set on fire or have you allowed it to smolder? If the latter is true, will you fan your heart and your gifts into flames?

Each time we draw near to God, each time we dig into His Word and spend time in heart-felt prayer, each time we use the gifts He gives to serve others, our flame grows. Every time we squelch our flame with sin, selfishness, and those temporary fillers that distract us from our true need, our tiny flame smolders.

The match is lit. Let it burn, my friend!

Let’s talk about this.

I’d love to hear from you. What do you think it means to fan our spiritual gifts into flames? What are some practical steps we can take to ignite our passion for Christ? What can threaten to “douse” our passion?

Behind the Battle Lines

February 22, 2021 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

A few summers ago, our family spent a week in Branson. While there, we met a woman passionate about the life movement and we engaged in conversation. She told me a story of a pregnant girl she reached out to her. One day, she spoke with the girl’s single, impoverished father who asked her, “Are you going to be here to help pay the expenses once the baby’s born?”
What he was asking was, “Do you really care, or are we just an agenda, just a battle to fight? Will you, so focused on speaking truth, walk with us when we put action to your words?”

This stuck with me, and is something I ask myself every time I’m tempted to engage in a battle. And there’s plenty of battles to fight, aren’t there? If we want to, we can spin from one to the next, Bible thumping every unsuspecting passerby hard enough to leave them dazed … and enraged.

At Easter, we’ll fight the Easter Bunny. Come Christmas we’ll write articles, boycott stores, and give long-winded sermons fighting for the phrase, “Merry Christmas.” Then we’ll grab our picket signs and line every street corner in protest of abortion.

Oh, how easy it is to hold a picket sign for an hour or two. It’s much harder to become actively and consistently involved in a young girl’s life.

Here’s the thing, while we’re drawing battle lines, people are dying. And seeing a “Merry Christmas” or an “abortion is murder” sign isn’t going to save them. In fact, I often wonder if most often our long-winded debates fall on deaf ears because it is impossible, yep, impossible, for man to understand spiritual things apart from Christ (1 Cor. 2:14). There’s only one way to change societies, and that’s by changing hearts. And there’s only one way to change hearts, and that’s by bringing them to the cross.

Let me explain it another way. Or, better yet, read how the Bible explains it:

Romans 1:21-28
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

You see, absence of God leads to depraved thinking. Many of the battles we fight are the result of depraved minds—deceived thinking. So how do you fight a depraved mind? You don’t. You introduce the depraved mind to Jesus and let Him change them from the inside out.
Think about it for a moment. What if every dollar and hour we spent on picket signs and protests we spent on outreach, instead? One-on-one, demonstrating, relationally, the love of Christ? How many lives would be changed? How many souls would be saved? And once those depraved minds were transformed by the love of Christ, how many issues would there be to fight. Folks, what if we’re merely chasing fires? Instead of fighting fires, would it not be more effective to start making people fire proof?

Now, I’m not saying never speak truth, but I am saying never let your truth mask your love. The next time you’re ready to fight a battle, before you enter into that debate, ask yourself, “Would I die for this person? Am I ready to stand by them and to walk with them?”

Jesus answered both questions with a resounding yes. A yes that drove Him to the cross.
I believe He wants us to offer the world the same answer, because truth without committed and consistent love is painful, destructive.

Repellant.

Are You Holding God Back?

January 9, 2021 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

Christian, are you growing cobwebs? Are you spending so much time praying for clarification, you’ve barricaded yourself permanently in your prayer closet?

Be careful not to view divine opportunities through a human lens tinted by human limitations. You see, how we live life is not about our abilities or failings, our strengths or weaknesses. Instead, it is about saying yes to a mighty God who longs to shine powerfully through us.

Here are some people I believed lived with reckless abandon to God, trusting in His power and not limiting their actions based on what they believed they could accomplish.

During the age of rationalism and revivalism, John Wesley traveled over 200,000 miles on horseback to preach 42,000 sermons, wrote 200 books, organized his followers and a Methodist society and built a chapel.

Charles Spurgeon gave enough sermons and wrote enough material to fill 200 large books. And what about the works of CS Lewis, Martin Luther, Tyndale and Wycliffe?

Were these men super Christians? Did they have more of God? God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He created the universe. Honestly, He doesn’t need us and if He chose, He could raise up a stone and make it the world’s greatest orator. For some mysterious reason He has chosen to work through man–not super humans, but ordinary men and women who trust in an extraordinary God to do mighty things through us.

I believe the question is not can we accomplish A or B but will we allow God to accomplish A or B through us.

Stop and think back to some of our heroes of faith. A murder named Moses, standing on the edge of a raging sea. A young boy named David fighting the giant Goliath. The people of Israel marching around the fortified wall of Jericho.

The Red Sea never would have parted had Moses remained in Midian. Goliath never would have been conquered had David remained in the fields, and Jericho never would have collapsed if the Israelites remained in their camp. God called them to take the city. Could they do it? Absolutely, but not in their own strength. But could God do it through them? Piece of cake.

What would our world look like if people started taking God at His word and surrendered their lives completely to Him?

“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6b).

You Can Do It

November 24, 2020 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

Last year a seminary professor came to our church and recited 2nd Timothy. All of it, from 2 Timothy 1:1 to 2 Timothy 4:22. Sound amazing? Perhaps even impossible?

And yet, pause now and think about all the songs you sing to on the radio–those you know word for word. Add to them the commercial slogans and theme songs you know.

When my daughter was seven or eight, the church we attended had a contest. The child who could memorize the most verses won an American Girl doll. My daughter memorized 51 verses in four weeks. Sound unbelievable? Like she’s a super child? Nope. She just wanted the doll.
It’s not that we can’t memorize. We memorize all the time. The question is what are we filling our brains with?

Think back to your favorite song. There was a time when it was new to you, but the more you listened to it and tried to sing along, the more familiar it became until familiarization turned to memorization.

I believe we can do the same with Scripture, which leads me to my next question—Why don’t we?

I think there are a few reasons.

First, we lack confidence. I don’t think we realize how truly phenomenal the human brain is.

Second, we lack follow through. I’m talking to myself now. Where I tend to pray, I have slips of paper with verses written on them–verses I wanted to memorize. Yet five months later, I’ve hardly given those verses a second glance. Think back to my song analogy. We don’t learn the songs we don’t listen regularly to, right?

Third, I think we lack focus. Again, talking to myself about those verses in my basement. I started with one that seemed to pop out at me one morning while reading Scripture. Soon, another verse spoke to me, so I wrote it down. Now I have a stack of verses to memorize with no clear plan as to how I’m going to do it. I need focus.

Now imagine what we might do, how we might grow, if we approached verse memorization with confidence, followed through, and operated with a clear focus. I imagine our faith would grow, peace would ensue, and Satan would start running for cover.

Tripping Over Cracks

October 25, 2020 by  
Filed under Faith, Faith Articles

By Jennifer Slattery –

Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm” (Proverbs 4:26, NIV).

We live in the Midwest. Normally, we get nasty blizzards, tornadoes, thunderstorms, and have hot, humid summers. I’ve even seen a few Toto’s running around our neighborhood. To me, a native North Westerner, all signs of the Midwest. We also have beautiful deciduous trees with thick trunks and branches. This means, we have roots–the ones that wiggle beneath sidewalks, uplifting big chunks of cement. When I run, these ruts and raises turn an easy jog into quite an obstacle course.

Most times, I navigated over the bumps and crevices without a problem, but every occasionally, when I’m tired or lost in thought, the raised cement catches me off guard and sends me flying.

Not a pretty sight.

In fact, I’ve been known to stop traffic, and not in a good way. Nothing like seeing a thirty-something howl like a toddler before falling prostrate on the cement. Yep. Attractive.

So I pick myself off the ground, tell the gawkers I’m okay, and glance back at the mammoth boulder I tripped over. Heat tears sear my cheeks as I realize I stumbled over not a boulder, but the tiniest of cracks. After one particularly embarrassing fall, I decided to choose my route a bit more carefully. I forewent the raised slabs of cement, opting for a smooth roadway instead.

I think our spiritual walk is like this sometimes. Often we can traipse through life without a bump or a stumble. During those times, it’s easy to get over-confident. Sin will never happen to us. We’re strong. But then, when we least expect it, we trip over a bump in the road. It might not even be a big bump. But it’s big enough to send us flying.

God knows this about us and has provided warnings in His Word—like the one I quoted at the beginning of this post. He wants us to choose level paths—to live with intentionality. Our level path might look different than our neighbor’s path.

If we struggle with drinking, it means no hanging out in bars. If we struggle with impure thoughts, we probably need to avoid many of today’s secular novels, movies, and television shows. If we struggle with discontentment, we might need to toss out those clothing catalogs. If we struggle with gossip, we might need to be selective about whom we spend our time with. Sounds restrictive, I know. Perhaps even unnecessary, but take it from a fellow pavement-eater, choosing level paths is much more pleasant than loosing skin.

What about you? Any rerouting God might want to do in your life? Maybe you’ve already made a hard right, veering onto a new, smooth course. Tell us about it.

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