A Heritage of Fire
Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Earth's crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes. The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries." - Elizabeth Barret Browning
Ideas often mature slowly, fermenting in the backs of our minds until they come to fruition and are ripe to be plucked and shared. It has been so with this blog post. For nearly four months I have been contemplating the message that this blog post bears. The Lord has been, little by little, fitting together the puzzle pieces of this truth and leading me on a marvelous treasure hunt to hear what He has to say on the matter. Perhaps the journey has not even reached completion in this day and time, but I do feel that now is the perfect time to write a little of what I have been learning about the heritage of the children on God.
I think the seed of this vision was first planted in my mind back in April when I heard a wise man named Wes Callihan give a talk through The House of Humane Letters, entitled: The Meadow before the Storm: St. John Moschos and the Christian East on the Eve of the Islamic Cataclysm and What We Can Learn From It. During part of the talk, he read a passage from a book (The Spiritual Meadow by John Moschos) describing how some children who were pasturing animals some distance from a city in Africa decided (as children do) that they wished to play a game, thinking they would play church and offer the holy sacrifice to each other. So they set up their altar on a flat rock, got into character, and began to pray the prayers of the holy sacrament. And, just as they finished praying, fire fell down from heaven to consume the communion. This story immediately caught my attention and I began to wonder what kind of world it was in which this could happen. When was the fire of the Lord so active in the Church that children saw it's obvious presence? And, if Christian faith was once on fire on a level we cannot even imagine here in America, what did we lose? Or, more accurately, What did we throw away? My mind became obsessed with exploring the idea of what the Western church (or the church in general) has given up for this comfortable Jesus who stays confined to Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. I don't know about you, but I've never seen fire consume an altar before my very eyes.
All throughout Scripture, God's presence is symbolized by the falling of fire. I think of Elijah on Mt. Carmel, the Dedication of the temple during Solomon's time, and, of course, the fire of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Historically, and all throughout the Word of God, the presence and power of the Holy One is embodied in fire. Gideon sees this in Judges 6:11-24, as he stands in the presence of the angel of the LORD during one of the many theophanies of the Old Testament. And as I read and remembered the great stories of the faith, I was shown a story full of miracles- the fire of God's work. This was a faith living and potent, so unlike the Christianity many of us know today. Through the grace of God, one thing at least I now see: That the faith has not changed, and neither have miracles stopped happening, but we (as the church) have changed quite a bit. The people have grown cold and let the fire die to embers before them. The Western church has let their lamps grow dim and the power of the Lord which once burned bright within the sanctuaries has been buried under the weight of a modern distraction. We are blind to the Fire that can radicalize our lives. Here is the truth: we have settled for a canned Christianity, choosing comfort over the fire of the Lord and because of this we are living unfulfilled lives.
Now, Fire is the embodiment of the presence of the Lord. We have forgotten who our God is, that is why the fire no longer burns in our faith. God did not stop working miracles, we stopped being able to see them. We stopped believing in them because we stopped believing in a God Who could work miracles. The plague of our blindness is caused because we have forgotten Who Our God is. We have forgotten the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. We have forgotten the God Who Split the Red Sea, the God Who built up a people from a wandering tribe, The God who became a man to die, harrowing hell and defeating death for the salvation of that same people. In forgetting who our God is, we have forgotten who we are, and in this we have forgotten the heritage that we were given as the Church of Christ. A Heritage of Fire. The Miracles have become rehearsed anecdotes and we live our lives without the Faith that is our heritage. God is bigger than that. God is better than that. And God wants more for us. God wants to open our eyes so that we can walk into our true identity. We were not made to worship a comfortable Christ, the personalized shadow of the real thing, we were made for the Fire. We were made to live lives full of the miracles of God. When we allow ourselves to be stretched out of the rut we have become entrenched in, a whole new horizon opens up before us. In Isaiah 54, God reveals his promises to His church and He lists out their heritage. He says: "'Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities." (v. 2-3) We have to allow ourselves to be stretched, but anyone who has been in the fire of the Lord knows that in the burning are the greatest blessings. Ephesians 1:18-19 encouraged me this week as I continued to pray and think about these things: "Having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might." This is also an inheritance of hope! So much of these past days has been having my eyes opened by the Lord to see the majesty of His work in the mundane of my life. And in seeing these things I am filled with hope as I contemplate the faithfulness of our good God. He is El Shaddai, Lord of All. And God, in His great goodness, is faithful to open our eyes so that we can see this glorious inheritance that He is offering to us. Your heritage, daughter or son of the Lord, is a heritage riddled with fire, chock full of miracles, and abundant in blessing. It is the heritage of David, Moses, Elijah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Gideon. That same fire that fell on Pentecost, has fallen on you. The amazing thing is that God wants us to walk into our heritage as children of God alive in our faith and burning with passion for the truth. We were not made to live this life of forgetfulness. It's one of the most beautiful (if not the most beautiful) things in the universe to see the church putting on the mantle she is meant to carry.
Fire awaits us in this faith. Fire is coming either way. It will be refining or it will be consuming. We have a heritage so much better than the one we have tailored for ourselves. The one the Western Church now wears is ill-fitting and full of gaps. The mantle God has for us is living, wonderfully made, and burning with the grace of God, with His love sewn in every seam. And it is glorious, the stuff of fairytales and legends. Let us remember He Who made us. May the altars once again burn with the presence of the Lord. He challenges what we have defined as church, He breaks up the routine we have settled into, He demolishes the husk we have chosen, and He calls us to something more. He is rebuilding what has been broken down. This is our heritage and our vindication. Life.
We cannot open our own eyes. We can say, like Samuel, "Speak LORD, Your servant is listening." And He is faithful to respond. Most times we don't even know our own blindness- in fact, pretty much every time- but He is a God who specializes in making blind eyes see. Even now, He is already reaching out to you. When our eyes are opened to see our God, then we see everything differently. This world is full of glory and this faith full of hope and "every common bush afire with God."
-Addison Hornstra at Tending the Soul