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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A Man’s Pay

I handed it to him and said, that’s how you do it. The other hand said “Hey Dan, take it easy on him, he’s just a kid!”

A few years ago I was doing a remodel on an elementary school in Billings. One of the guys I had working under me was the teenage nephew of the owner of the company I worked for. I had him and another more experienced guy removing all the ceramic floor and wall tile in the bathrooms.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I got them lined out and went to do other things. A couple hours later I came back and there wasn’t a whole lot accomplished yet. The more experienced hand was popping tile off the walls with a little seven bar and a hammer, making a little progress, but here was the bosses’ nephew sitting on top of a short ladder with his Leathermen tool, basically an expensive Swiss Army knife—in case you don’t know— and he was using the little flat screw driver attachment to pry the tiles off, one agonizingly slow tile at a time.

I said, what are you doing? I gave you a spud bar and a floor scraper. He says, “Oh, I don’t need those, I have all the tools I need right here in my Leatherman.” I said, “No, put that away, we don’t have forever to get this done.” I then grabbed the spud bar and attacked the walls with it scraping off scores of wall tiles from the concrete backer board in a matter of a few seconds.

I handed it to him and said, that’s how you do it. The other hand said “Hey Dan, take it easy on him, he’s just a kid!” I replied, “He’s getting paid a man’s wages here, he needs to do a man’s work.” (Yes I know that’s not politically correct–so sue me) Production increased dramatically after that.

Just a few months ago I happened to run into his Dad at a supply house in Billings and he recognized my name as he was taking my order. He said, “Hey, I’m Kyle’s dad, my son worked with you a few years ago and he talked about you a lot, he really liked you and he learned a lot that summer! Thank You.”

I said “Thanks, that’s really good to hear.”

I have always believed that you are not doing anyone any favors by not teaching them how to work and expecting more out of them then they expect out of themselves. Being fair, yes, but expecting one to do their best. That’s the way I was raised, that’s the way I came up in the trades and that willingness to work hard and the wisdom to work efficiently and productively has always served me well.

It has kept me working and garnered me more responsibility, and a bigger paycheck as I have been entrusted with more and more over the years.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. James 3:13

That’s what James is doing here, trying to teach us how to work, to garner more responsibility and trust so that we can have greater rewards.

The apostle James is laying out for us in his letter, the way to obtain wisdom, the fruit of righteousness, even grace; telling us it is in our willingness to let go of ourselves, our selfish ambitions, lusts, our need to be somebody in the eyes of the world and in humbling ourselves, repenting of our arrogance and selfishness.

In fact, he is quite adamant and passionate about it, true to his ‘no holds barred’ style he is even calling us out as being adulterous for seeking our own advancement over that of the Kingdom, which has implications of we the bride cheating on the groom. James is calling us out for going after the false gods of self and the desires of the flesh.

Bottom line here, I believe, in this section of James’ letter is that our arrogance, pride and apathy is disqualifying us from the full measure of grace and the power that goes with it that God so desperately wants to give us.

How-ya liking James now?

“Hey, I’m just a kid, leave me alone!” No. you are being fed meat, you need to work like an adult.

God yearns jealously for our spirits as only a first and true love can. And we are truly the ones our God yearns for as his first love, the crown of his creation made in his image. To love and be loved with the kind of love only a being created like the creator, who embraces that love, can.

The spirit is our inner being, the very core and heart of who we are, and God wants nothing more than to connect with us on an intimate personal level. Too often we let our mouths get in the way. There’s an old saying; “Don’t let your froggy lips overload your tadpole ass.” In other words. Don’t let your mouth get you into more trouble than you can handle.

A little humility goes a long way. Especially with the Lord.

Pride always gets us into trouble. It just sets you up to fail.

I have little patience at work, as I have mentioned to you before, for someone who spends more time telling me what they can do and how good they are, than they do working. Less talk, more work. Talk is arrogance, work is humility. When the task at hand is done, then we can talk. And even plan what’s next, based on what you did, not what you said you can do..

Let the boss catch you working, head down, mouth shut, hands busy. And when it’s time for layoffs, you’ll look up and see that the talkers are gone and you are now somebody—somebody trusted, somebody with favor, more responsibility, more authority—but most importantly, still employed.

That scenario has happened to me more than once in my construction career. God’s economy works the same way. Yeah we could all go on unemployment or welfare and make it to heaven in the end, presuming on grace as citizens of the Kingdom by virtue of the blood.

But then you are not living up to your potential, you are wasting the talents given you and you are missing out on the joys of seeing the fruits of your labors and the honor and security of being a diligent trusted worker with the opportunity, by virtue of your position, to help others and even bring them into the fold as well.

The reward for faithfully working is often those greater works you seek.