Ever since I was a young teen, I have allowed myself to be plagued by a crippling fear of public speaking. Several years ago I became determined to overcome this fear. After all, if I could perform in theater, in my mind I should be able to speak publicly, but it was the pulpit and the thought of getting something wrong while trying to teach about the bible that scared me the most.
I decided to try and gain confidence using the baby step method.
First I made sure that I had plenty of opportunities to speak available so that once I felt comfortable enough I wouldn’t have to make a big deal of it by requesting to take the preacher’s place for a lesson. I did this by suggesting that the Wednesday night invitation and the devotional after our third Sunday song service be made available to all men of the congregation. An added bonus has been that the men of the congregation who have a talent for speaking are able to use it for the glory of the Lord.
Then I started by reading scripture in worship service when given the chance. I did this for many years before I felt comfortable for the next step: I asked to do the announcements for our congregation, a task that I felt was difficult to mess up.
About a year after I started doing announcements, with God’s help and the encouragement of my wife and friends, I finally steeled myself enough to give my first lesson in almost 20 years.
This is that lesson given on June 21st, 2009 — encouraging people to let God control the fire in their hearts, as only He can guide it safely.
Just about every year around this time you can read in the news about wildfires raging, posing a dangerous threat to cities and towns. Fortunately, we have highly trained men and women we call firefighters that come in and work tirelessly to stop these fires. One of the main methods they use is what they call a controlled burn. They start a fire that can be managed, to stop the one that cannot.
I. This shows us that fire has a dual nature – it can be beneficial, or it can be destructive.
A. When controlled, fire is an awesome thing:
A. It keeps us warm!
· I’m sure that even during our two days of winter here in Alabama that we can appreciate the roaring fire in the fireplace.
B. We cook our food with it:
· I’ll take a good, medium-well steak over cold sushi / raw fish any day.
C. We use it to make electricity:
· The International Energy Agency states that nearly 80% of the world’s power comes from burning oil, gas, and coal.
D. We also use it to purify and harden metals so we can build better things with them:
· Buildings, cars, computers, all this would be impossible without the hardening and purifying power of fire.
· And back in the days when swords were used instead of guns, they’d take a piece of metal and heat it up so that it softens, shape it, plunge it in water, then reheat it, fold it over, and reshape it. Sometimes they’d do this multiple times, each time strengthening the metal. This would make for a very strong sword that could hold a cutting edge throughout battle.
B. But uncontrolled, fire is a powerfully destructive force.
I’m pretty sure we all know — or know of — someone that has had their house burned down. Everything they own, scrapbooks, photographs, clothes — gone — destroyed in a matter of minutes. Sometimes, even loved ones are lost to fire. One of the leading causes of house fires is the fireplace itself. Why is this? The fire gets out of control. It escapes the boundaries we’ve put it in, usually when we grow lax in watching over it.
II. The Bible also shows us the duality of fire.
A. Fire is used as punishment
Leviticus 10:1&2: Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
The most well known punishment fire is used in is of course, Hell. Revelation tells us of a lake of fire, Chapter 20 starting at verse 11:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
B. God also uses fire in beneficial ways:
A. Exodus 13:21 tells us that God used a pillar of fire at night to guide the Israelites to Canaan.
B. Yearly sacrifices were one of the requirements in the covenant with Israel. And as I read before, God commanded them to use specific fire to burn the sacrifice and incense required, so fire was needed in order to keep the covenant with God.
C. And a figurative fire is used to test us, to strengthen us:
1 Peter 1:6-9 says: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.
Like the sword was heated and shaped and reshaped, we are too through the trials and temptations we endure. When we succeed in resisting temptation, we become stronger, better. But we cannot do that without God’s help.
III. We have a fire inside us. And like the examples above, this fire can be an awesome power. But when it is misdirected, when left alone to rage uncontrolled like the forest fire, when it is improperly contained, it destroys lives, and most importantly, it destroys souls.
A. Two great examples in the Bible of the fire inside a person being misdirected are the Apostles Peter and Paul:
1. In the Gospel accounts, when Jesus was at Gethsemane, Peter drew his sword and took a swing at one of the men coming to arrest Jesus, cutting off Malchus’ ear. Peter was READY to fight for Jesus. He was on FIRE and no one was going to take his teacher! But what did Jesus do? He stopped him, picked up the ear and put it back on. Obviously Peter’s intentions, however noble, were painfully misdirected, but Jesus was there to set him back on the right path.
Peter ended up preaching the first sermon on Pentecost, guiding many lost souls to salvation.
2. The book of Acts tells us of the Apostle Paul, who — when he was still called Saul — hunted Christians down, imprisoned them, and persecuted them, all in the Lord’s name. After Jesus appeared to him at Damascus and he was baptized into the Church he was a changed man. Acts chapter 9, particularly verses 10 through 22. And through Divine Inspiration his writings have shaped the Lord’s church, giving us guidelines of how to be faithful Christians.
A. These examples show that God has the power to take the fire in our hearts and do things that no one can imagine with it.
The problem is that we cannot control this fire, only God can. Oh we can try, and often we think we have it under our thumb, but really we are deceiving ourselves. We must give God control over our fire, over our passion, over our desires in life, and only once we do will we find salvation.
Christians, I’m sure we all remember well that day when we came up out of the watery grave of baptism. We were on fire for God! We had made our decision and we were committed! There was nothing in the world more important to us at that moment than serving Him.
I’d like us to take a good look at ourselves right now, comparing how we are now, to how we were then. Let’s be as objective as we possibly can and ask ourselves: Have we let work, or school, or dating, or friends redirect our fire away from God? Do we desire spending time with the world more than we desire spending it with our spiritual brothers and sisters? Would we rather go to a ballgame, a party, a work event than to a devotional, a fellowship, or even just generally spending time with other members here? If we don’t want to spend time with each other on Earth, why would we want to spend time with each other in Heaven?
Or maybe we’ve grown complacent, happy to sit in our pew once or twice a week, thinking that we’ve checked off a box on our to do list and by doing so, we’ve done all we need to do as Christians?
If this is how we are now then we are dangerously close to destruction. For lack of a better phrase, we’re playing with fire, and we will get burned.
The good thing is, we have a choice in the matter! God has given us a way to come back to Him, to put our fire back in His hands so that He can once again direct our lives.
We start doing this by making that conscious decision to give God that control again. Then we need to repent of our sins, because yes, if we’ve let something get between us and God, even if it’s something as simple as complacency, we have sinned and we need to turn away from it.
Every minute we have is an opportunity to return to Him, so take this time, right now to make it right with God. If you need prayers, help, or anything, let us know. I know that the Elders, as shepherds of this congregation desire nothing more than to know that their flock is fully under God’s control, and they will do whatever is necessary to help. And I’m sure the same goes for the Deacons, and every Brother and Sister in here.
For those of you in the audience who are not Christians, you’ve heard the word of God, not only tonight but I’m sure many times before. So the question I’d like to put before you, is do you believe what you’ve heard?
Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?
Do you believe that you have sin in your life? Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned. If you do believe these things, then you know that the only way to get rid of sin is through Jesus himself. In John 14:6 Jesus says “…I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
If you believe all this, then I have just one more question: What are you waiting for???? We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, all we have is NOW.
If you believe come tonight and confess his name. Matthew 10:32 says: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.”
Then repent of your sins. Acts 17:30 This is more than just apologizing for what you done, it’s taking a complete 180 away from the sins in your life and dedicating yourself to God. It’s refusing to let your sins control you anymore. This is probably the hardest part, but thankfully, He will not tempt us more than we are able to bear, I Corinthians 10:13, and through Christ all things are possible. Philippians 4:13. So resisting temptation, while it seems an insurmountable task, with God we can do it!
Then all that’s left is to be baptized into Christ for the remission of your sins, Acts 2:38, so you can live the rest of your life faithfully, free from sin, giving God control over the fire in your heart.
I know the walk alone up to the front pew can be pretty intimidating. Don’t let that be the reason that keeps you from this decision. If that is the reason, just raise your hand and we’ll come to you – we’ll embrace you knowing that you are ready to take this wonderful and EXTREMELY important step. The important thing is that you make that decision tonight, RIGHT NOW. So please do so as we sing this song.