“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” Acts 8:1
In 1988 Yellowstone National Park experienced a devastating fire that shut down a great deal of the park leaving it scorched and desolate. It showed the great damage that fire can do, not only to wildlife, but also to the structures that have been erected over time. It was the largest fire in the history of Yellowstone National Park.
There is a particular fear and, at the same time, fascination that accompanies fire. Growing up in southern California I used to love to sit and just stare into the fireplace, watching the flames consume the logs neatly positioned there. It was relaxing, almost mesmerizing, and provided silent moments of reflection. When I moved north and purchased a home I wanted a wood-burning fireplace to recreate those moments. What I ended up with was a gas-burning artificial log. What became clear was that the concern for air quality and the destructive power of an uncontained fire were greater than my need for a re-creation of fond memories and reflective moments. And I understand. Though fire may provide a certain fascination it always carries with it a danger of life scorched, burned and consumed.
Therefore, though I don’t readily think about the dangers of fire or imagine myself having to deal with fire’s devastating effects, I realize that the possibility of fire calls for great caution. There are those who have endured the pain, devastation and loss associated with fire in a way far beyond what I understand. There are dangers that follow us in this world and at times consume our lives. These painful and destructive forces are to be avoided, if possible, when they present themselves. As a result we remain vigilant and alert to the dangers of life around us. We guard what we believe to be ours, no matter what form it takes. But even with all our vigilance there are times when the fire jumps the firebreak and finds a new source of fuel. We are left watching helplessly the destruction, thinking only of escape.
In the New Testament book of Acts, chapter eight, a fire storm of persecution rained down in Jerusalem on the new believing community called the church. Those followers of Jesus who were not dragged off to prison were scattered to the four winds, displaced by this spiritually based attack. The interesting thing is that rather than destroying the church, this fire of persecution seemed to cause the church to expand and flourish in new places.
Ecologists have come to realize the value of the fires in Yellowstone, as devastating as they were. The primary source of fuel for the fire was the great Lodge Pole pine trees that populate the forests there. Those species of tree have pinecones that encase the seed in an almost indestructible shell. It has been discovered that only intense heat will release the seed from the shell and allow new growth to occur. It has provided a further insight into these devastating fires.
In the early church the fires of persecution provided the intense heat to release the seed of the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ and scatter it abroad in the greater world. This persecution was not the end of the church, but the means used by God to scatter further the seed of Christ’s love and grace. It is this very seed that brings transformation to life.
I have been considering the places of pain and relative devastation in my own life and have realized, that compared to others, I have endured little. But I still want to escape whatever the painful circumstances are. My tendency is to run from the fire as fast as I can. But in so doing, I may be attempting to circumvent the very process of transformation God has for me. Only as the intense heat of the transforming love of Jesus is applied to my life can the new seed be scattered within me that produces a greater harvest of fruit, the fruits not only of influence for the sake of God’s kingdom, but the fruit of virtues like humility, kindness and love. It takes an increasingly mature eye to see the value of the transforming fire of the Holy Spirit bringing about the deeper inner transformation Jesus intends for my life. In the fires of transformation those things that are not of God are further removed while the seed of Jesus, His grace and His love, is exposed and given space to take root.
As you consider this day the difficulties and painful circumstances of your life, what is the seed of Jesus that those fires are exposing so that you might further be transformed by His power? As in the Yellowstone fires, what seems devastating at the time can result in new growth and greater fruit. Sometimes the greatest transformation comes as we surrender to the fire and allow the old to be burned away so that the new can then take root. May you experience the presence of Jesus accompanying you in the midst of the flames with His own love, grace and comfort, may the seeds of His love be further exposed and scattered within and through your life this day, and may you be further transformed into His own glorious likeness! Grace and peace from God our heavenly Father.