Fanning the Flame

“It was not long before we heard sirens coming from what seemed every direction, . . . we were now the idiots who tried to blow up Billings. “

Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? Mark 8

Can you imagine standing toe to toe with Jesus and having him ask you this? The indignation of this question is quite obvious in the context. So this was no rhetorical or contrived discussion question.

Welcome to the Capernaum chapter of the Clueless Fishermen for Jesus support group. Let’s break the ice by going around the circle and explaining in two or three sentences why you are still confused about this carpenter/teacher/prophet from Nazareth. Who wants to go first?”

No, This is a question from Jesus that no doubt made his followers a little uncomfortable. It’s like—‘Do I need to call Captain Obvious to explain things to you? Can you not hear? Can you not see? Have you forgotten everything?’

Do we understand? Because it’s easy to miss the obvious truth that Jesus is the Christ and that in him we have nothing to fear and nothing to loose, if we are totally surrendered to and trusting of him.

We have to keep fanning the flames of truth and understanding to really bring the knowledge of who Christ is, and what that means for us, from the head into the heart, into our very spirits. We have to let the Holy Spirit move freely through us and in us and that is a huge challenge because the enemy will do everything he can to block that wind of the Spirit so that those flames will die out leaving us with nothing but head knowledge and a weakness that leaves us susceptible to the yeast of the Pharisees—a yeast of selfish ambition and religious attitudes of judgment and haughtiness.

Look at me. I’m somebody and you are nobody, and I am worthy of more.‘  That attitude, along with the weaknesses of the flesh that we may give in to, can block the Spirit and leave us smoldering.

Why do we not understand? Because we are not putting it all together. This is what the Lord told me, because I asked, and the Lord gives wisdom to those who ask:

“The understanding is in the heart, the wisdom is in the word, and the conjunction is in the Spirit.”

Worldly wisdom comes from the head and what we can put in it. Godly wisdom is seated in the heart, it is a wisdom that comes from God’s word and is brought to life by his Holy Spirit.  

The word is the fire that is in the heart and the wind that fans the flames is the Holy Spirit fanning it all to life for wisdom, power and understanding. All of that leads to the faith we need to get us through this life with and for Jesus, blessed, fruitful and advancing the Kingdom of our God.

Fire!

Back in the 80’s when I worked for an outfit that did pipeline and refinery work we got contracted to do the demolition of one of those big oil storage tanks at the Conoco refinery in Billings. The tank was located in a lot just behind the refinery actually, just off the Interstate in what they called the “tank farm.” If you are going through Billings you have surely seen those tanks right near the river just before you get to the Lockwood exit.

Our job was to go in there with cutting torches and cut this huge tank into sheets of metal small enough to fit on a flatbed truck to haul away for scrap metal.

So where do you start demoing a giant steel tank? On the roof of course. So, using a crane with a “man cage” swinging from it they hoisted me up to the top and deposited me with my cutting torch in hand. The Oxy/Acetylene bottles were still on the ground and I had many feet of hose run out to it. I started cutting away, the plan being to cut pie shaped pieces of the lid loose and let them fall down inside. That’s another story all in itself, it’s a wonder I survived my earlier construction years looking back at some of the things we used to do. But anyway, so far, so good.

Now, this tank had been sitting empty for many years and there was a large hole cut in the side big enough to drive a small skid steer through and to let things air out real well. But there was this weird thick black dry residue of something all over the floor. It looked to me like ground up tires, three inches thick or so. It was actually some kind of residue from the crude oil that had been stored in the tank at one time.

We soon discovered that it was somewhat flammable, no problem. As I was cutting on top, occasionally a small fire would flare up on the floor and someone would just go in and pat it out with a shovel.

Then the boss, the owner of the outfit, ol’ Wayne, at least he seemed old to me at the time, decided that it would be much more efficient to put the oxy/acetylene bottles up on the lid, and then we would have enough hose to get two guys cutting.

So they loaded up the bottles into the man cage and hoisted them up to the lid. Everyone’s attention was on the bottles and the people going up to the top—and no one was watching the inside of the tank where a little bit of smoldering residue had got enough wind to burst into flames.

We now had a big enough hole in the roof that the wind blowing through the opening in the side could really get to fanning the flames and soon there was quite a plume of smoke billowing out of the top. I shouted “Hey, there’s a fire down below!”

The flames were now way too big to pat out with a shovel. The boss quickly swung us and the bottles down off the top and soon everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I was standing there with Wayne waiting for him to tell me what to do and he looked at me and said; “I don’t know what to do!”

By this time there was a line of cars stopped on the highway watching this huge column of thick black smoke billowing out of the top of a tank; at the refinery!—this does not look good. We were a long ways from the nearest phone but the smoke signals we were sending up could be seen for miles. Just imagine a giant burn barrel full of tires; that’s what we had going there.

(A more recent fire) A STORAGE TANK at the ConocoPhillips refinery, above, lies crumpled Friday morning after a fire on Thursday in Billings.

I looked at Wayne and said “We have to stop that wind from blowing in that hole in the side—it’s just fanning the flames and making it look really bad.We grabbed a large tarp from one of our trucks and Wayne and I stood there and held it up against the hole as best we could to block the wind.

It helped but it did not stop the flames, the smoke was still horrendous. It was not long before we heard sirens coming from what seemed every direction. Soon a big yellow fire truck came rolling up and fireman all decked out in their coats and respirators came running at us shouting “What’s going on?”

We were standing the with our arms up over our heads holding the tarp against the tank, futilely trying to cut off the air, our faces black with soot—and Wayne didn’t say a word. I don’t know what he was thinking but he looked like a deer in the headlights. So I quickly explained the situation. About this time hoses were being strung out so we dropped our tarp and got out of the way as they ran headlong into the tank and started spraying foam everywhere.

Photo by Tobias Rehbein on Pexels.com
Here I am– to save the day!

Before it was over we had five different fire crews show up. The City of Billings, Lockwood, the refinery fire crews from Conoco and the nearby Exxon crew and a truck from the now defunct O’Donnell’s Fire service clear out in Shepherd.

I was just shaking my head. I kept thinking, “It’s just a little fire inside of a tank all by itself over here, it’s mostly just smoke!” But apparently everyone thought that the whole city was in danger. The fire was out long before all the trucks stopped rolling in.

Of course we made the evening news and we were now the idiots who tried to blow up Billings. But we went back to work the next day and made sure we kept someone on fire watch. Life goes on.

Thots

Do you understand?

Understanding is the small flicker of flame that starts as a little smolder in a rich and abundant bed of fuel planted in our hearts by God’s word, that has to have the wind of the Spirit to really get it roaring. The Devil will try everything he can to put out that fire. But all he has is a tarp made of lies to try and block the wind. Don’t let him do it.

To understand you have to put it all together, if you understand that Jesus is the Christ, that he is with you, that you have nothing to fear, that he can use what you have to do incredible things from a heart of compassion for people, and do not let the greed of the heart, the lies of the world and the pride that is always prodded by the enemy choke you off, then the Holy Spirit will fan the embers of faith in your heart into a roaring fire that God can use to overcome any obstacle to his purposes that he puts on your heart to achieve.

Not for greed, not for glory, not for fame or self-satisfaction, but for Jesus.

The understanding is in the heart, the wisdom is in the word, and the conjunction is in the Spirit.

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Tastes Like Chicken

“… I started paying attention to the hooting of the owls I was also hearing. This is nothing new, we have had owls around the house for several years–but we never had chickens before…yikes!”

titus 3 meme.jpg

“For we were also once foolish…” It’s easy to get arrogant when you are suddenly unlike so much of the rest of the world who seems to revel in foolishness and debauchery.

When we are transformed so completely by the power of the Holy Spirit it’s easy to forget that we were once totally deceived by the flesh and the enemy as well and if we do remember we think, “Wow, I really cleaned up my act, I really pulled it together!” No. actually, you barely did squat, Jesus did it—you just finally allowed him to do it in you, and for you.

We can’t be like the pharisees acting holier than thou and we can’t act like the pagans indulging in whatever the flesh decides it wants at the moment. We need to behave like those who hold ourselves to a higher standard while still treating others like we truly care about them, to treat others the way we want to be treated.

This is what gets people to stop running from a God whom they think they could never please, and gets them coming to him and asking “Please; I want to stop running.” It can be hard to be a friend to sinners because they are so deceived they don’t recognize the danger and when they do, they don’t know where to turn. And even when they ask for help and desire rescue from their misery and addictions, they still run from the one who could truly save them.

Chickens inspired that, people are often no smarter than chickens.

As I was working on my sermon Tuesday evening the two chickens we are watching for our daughter Jessie interrupted my study. A couple weeks ago she brought over two of her chickens, one of which had an injured leg that made her a target for the other chickens of her flock who sense any weakness and pounce on it. And she brought over a friend to keep her company.

photo of rooster on grass
Photo by Matthis Volquardsen on Pexels.com

She put them in the dog kennel with the big dog house in it. We don’t have a dog right now so that works fine, except the chickens soon figured out that by getting on top of the dog house they could fly over the fence and get out.

So Donna and I started just letting them roam around in the day time and then we put them in the dog house at night and put a hog panel in front of the door to keep them in and the predators out. The problem is, they insist on roosting on the patio furniture on the back deck as soon as the sun goes down so we have to catch them and carry them to the dog house. No big deal, once they roost they become pretty lethargic—more like half comatose.

I’ve never had chickens before so I find this all very interesting. Anyway, Tuesday night I was in my office sermonating when I hear the chickens, which were just settling in to their roost mode on the back of a patio chair next to the sliding glass door, pecking on the glass and making  fuss. At first I ignored it, it wasn’t the first time they thought they should be able to come in the house, but they were getting more and more rambunctious.

Then I started paying attention to the hooting of the owls I was also hearing. This is nothing new, we have had owls around the house for several years, but we never had chickens before…yikes!

So I made a beeline to the patio door, saw the chickens, apparently safe on their chair but still doing the chicken “buck buck  buck-oc!” thing so I step out on the deck and see a big ‘ol great horned owl, sitting on top of my truck about 15 feet away. I’ve seen these massive owls at various times ever since I was a kid and for some reason they always send a shiver down my spine. Maybe because they are huge and fearless and have a way of appearing out of nowhere.

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This one was no exception, suddenly sitting there like some grey stone gargoyle on top of my truck. He doesn’t seem a bit concerned that I’m out there. I look for something I can throw and don’t see anything I really want to hit my truck with so I just run at him yelling and waving my arms and he takes off on those great silent wings.

At the same time I see another owl take off from off a fence post on the opposite side of the yard, they had our chickens surrounded. My wife Donna wasn’t home yet, she’s usually the one who puts the chickens to bed, but these girls need to get tucked in now!

All right ladies, bed time. So I plucked one of the now quiet birds off the chair back and carried her to the dog house/coop, placed her inside and went back for the other one who now decided I was the one she need to be scared of. So she made me chase her around the deck, off the deck, back on to the deck, under the chairs, all while trying not to get her too riled up, until she finally paused long enough for me to grab her without pouncing like a hungry cat.

It must be hard to be a chicken, pretty much everything wants to eat you, because, well, after all—chicken really does taste like chicken. I know many of you here have learned the hard way how many critters want to eat your chickens.

So I get the second chicken into the dog house with the other hen and put the panel across the door, safe and sound. I went back to work on my sermon and, after hearing the owls commence their hooting again, I remember that I didn’t shut the kennel door. Better do that to keep the coyotes out. So I go back out and here’s one of those very large owls sitting on top of the kennel and her partner just a few feet away on the fence. Right up until then I thought it was pretty cool to hear these owls at night, not any more.

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Thots

The chickens were smart enough to call for help. But then they were too dumb to accept it. Anyone relate?

That’s the way the world is, and honestly, too often we are also; “Help me help me” What? No wait, I want to stay here where I’m comfortable, where are you taking me? And we run around in circles while the Lord is patiently trying to move us away from the great horned death looming in the darkness just waiting for a chance to finish us off.

“Don’t mind me, I’m just a little ‘ol hoot owl, here to sing you a lullaby.”kindness.jpg

Funny how we have to keep being reminded of God’s mercy and kindness.