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From The Pastor's Desk

"I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?" Luke 12:49

A firebreak is an area of land that has had plants and trees removed to stop the spread of fire. It is a gap in vegetation or other combustible material that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a bushfire or wildfire. Firebreaks are natural or constructed barriers that are kept free of woody fuel to stop or check fires. During my past years of forestry experience and present practice of stewardship of a few woodland acres of my own, I have learned to appreciate the value and significance of firebreaks. Fire is a valuable tool in managing conifer woodlands in the southeast. Since conifers such as Loblolly, Slash, or Longleaf Pine are more fire resistant than less desirable competing species like Sweetgum, Scrub Oaks, and brush, a fire can be used to reduce competition in the forest which results in increased growth and health of the pine forest. Also, a well timed fire in the forest can reduce forest floor and midstory brush fuel thereby lowering the chance of a wildfire that would destroy the entire forest.

Our God is described in the Bible as being a consuming fire. In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit is said to appear as fire, and the Lord Jesus Christ, not only sends fire, but is a fire.

"I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?" Malachi 3:2

So, fire has an important spiritual application for the Christian. And, in Psalms 1, the believer is described as a tree planted by a river to bear fruit in season. If God is a fire, and we are trees, then it goes without saying that our Heavenly Father may surely bless us with a burn.

In order for a forest fire to do what its supposed to do, to be beneficial, it has to be controlled. Fire is nothing to play with! One of the first jobs a new forestry employee would ask me for was to "burn some woods." I would always tell them, "you will never learn how to use fire until one gets away or gets out of control." We know that God is the potter and we are the clay. Let's also think of God as the forester and we the trees. Maybe God is about to do a control burn in your life. He will do this because He knows there are too many things in our lives that are competing for our love for Him. He also loves us so much, He decides it's best to reduce our worldly accumulations so that a "wildfire" of lust and pride won't destroy our witness for Him later on. Or, He may send a fire to our lives to benefit others. A timely control burn in a forest results in increased nutrient availability and forage for wildlife and birds. God, though, may be sending fire into our lives just for aesthetics; to show off His grace and to tell the world that our lives are being managed by God. God cares enough about us to not allow our spiritual lives to become so entangled with thorns and trash that we appear unmanaged. God will not share His glory with another, nor will he let the devil have His trees.

Our Father forester will always establish a firebreak before He sets a fire in our lives. We see that a firebreak is a disturbed area that provides a break or gap between two areas. The new birth, or regeneration is the work of God's almighty power whereby He disturbs our deadness to spiritual life and cuts up our affections to worldliness and sin. What God does when He saves us is that he establishes a fire break around our hearts.

"But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God and they shall be my people." Jeremiah 31:33

While God's fire breaks are permanent, we must be diligent and vigilant in maintaining these boundaries. Every year I disk over the established firebreaks on my property with a tractor and harrow. A Christian can maintain God's firebreak around our hearts by thinking of His goodness and faithfulness every day. Realizing how much God has forgiven me helps me separate spiritual things from fleshly things. It also helps to carry a rake with you when you're checking firebreaks. Since all believers are saved by grace, we all should have a "grace rake" to remove those areas of foreign growth that accumulate in life's spiritual boundary and may contribute to a fire "jumping" the break and getting into an area it should not be in. The Apostle Paul spoke of sufficient grace in II Corinthians chapter 12. God had established a break in the Apostle's heart on the road to Damascus, but Paul had to maintain that break with grace. God sent the fire (thorn), but grace raked away the complaining and caused Paul to depend on God, resulting in an effective control burn manifesting God's glory in the Apostle's life.

"And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." II Corinthians 12:9

Even though God breaks our heart with His grace, we must be vigilant as we work through this sinful world. Sometimes even the most well kept firebreak can allow a fire to jump across the break. Fire responds dramatically to the wind and most often the wind direction will change when a fire is set. That's because the devil is described as "the prince of the power of the air." Your mouth can start a wildfire too, so watch what you say. Recently, while control burning an area of my woodland property, I was leaning on my rake, standing in the firebreak when all of sudden I noticed a flame about twenty yards over across the firebreak and on my neighbor's property. I quickly rushed to the fire and extinguished it. My heart raced even more when I thought about what might have happened had I not been standing where I stood. Actually, I thanked God audibly for allowing me to be in the right place at the right time.

God has a purpose for everything He does; even His burns are blessings. One purpose God has in mind with spiritual firebreaks is to control our passions. Our passions need controlling because our passions often control us. Jesus said "as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Temperance, or self control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and should be well received by a serious Christian. Humans are created in the image of God, a God of Holy Fire and perfect passion. So, in His likeness, we all have an inward desire that directs and motivates us. Now, when we are born again, our desires and motives are directed and influenced more directly by God because we are now new creations in Christ Jesus. Remember, our new birth is when God establishes a firebreak around our hearts. That firebreak is needful because we still have a sinful nature that must burn.

It's important to recognize the passion God has given you and pursue it with everything you have. We are to do all for the glory of God, and we can't do it without passion. I would rather fail at something I really love, than to succeed at something which doesn't mean much to me.

Christians should let our lives burn for God in all we do and say! And the peace and comfort we have in living that way is that the fire of desire is within the bounds of a spiritual firebreak. These firebreaks include God's Word, His church, His Holy Spirit guiding and God's institutions and appointments like marriage and death.

A second purpose God has in preparing our lives for a controlled fire is to adjust our priorities. Did you know that an entire forest ecosystem is in grave danger of becoming extinct? The Longleaf Pine Wiregrass forest once covered millions of acres over the southeastern United States. Today, that forest type is almost nonexistent. The reason is no fire! Population increases are surely one reason why fire may not have been practical in the forest in some areas. Longleaf Pine and Wiregrass require fire to regenerate and thrive. Christians also require fire to survive! Now, we may lose the Longleaf Wiregrass ecosystem, but God will not lose even one of His redeemed trees. And He will use fire to cause us to thrive. Because pines are somewhat fire resistant and hardwoods and brush are not, a controlled fire will take out the hardwoods and brush and not hurt the pines. You see, the pines are the priority so the fire enhances what's important. When God sends a spiritual control burn in our lives, we realize what's really important - God, and other believers. Sometimes we can't see the trees for the forest. A control burn will reveal the real trees. The Longleaf forest is in trouble because something else is growing in its place, something less desirable which would not be growing there if burning had taken place. There was no burning because there were no firebreaks established. Aren't you thankful that God has plowed firebreaks around your life? You won't be devastated when you lose an earthly treasure because you know it is only a controlled burn made by the Master Prescribed Burner. When the smoke clears, we will have our priorities in the right order.

"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." II Corinthians 4: 17, 18

The third reason God sends fire into our lives is to purify us. When God breaks our sinful hearts by convicting us of our sin against Him, he is creating a division between us and the world, the flesh, and the devil. We may feel sometimes like asking God to give us a "break," but be careful in asking for that because he may send a purifying fire of trials. The Bible says that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience and experience hope. We have hope because we know that God has a border around our souls, we are His, and because of this His cleansing fire will only go so far.

"When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." Isaiah 43:2

I really am amazed that anyone would want to hear me preach. Every Sunday I wonder if anyone who was at church the past Sunday will come back. I don't feel that way because of humility. I feel that way because of my impurities and imperfections. Here's what keeps me preaching though: people will come see a fire. I've known folks to drive miles to check out a wood's fire smoke. So, even though I may not have a message for the congregation on Sunday morning, they will come to see me burn for Jesus! If you stay close to Jesus, to His Word and to His people, he will keep something burning all the time. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize the Lord, but acknowledged that something was burning in their hearts. Jesus said that the pure in heart will see God. God's word is alive and aflame and burns away all the dross, lust, laziness, and pride. David said that the only way a person could know the pure way is by "taking heed according to thy word."

As the pain and pressure of living life on earth mount up, remember that as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ we should expect such. Only a crucified Christian can have fellowship with a crucified Lord. Yes, the fires of life will come, but remember it is not a wildfire, it is a control burn, intended to temper our passions, redirect our priorities, and promote our purity. The only way we can have peace amidst the flames is to make sure our firebreaks are secure. Although God has put a permanent break around our heart, we must maintain a heart watch to prevent the fire from getting into the wrong places. Don't you think it's about time to take a break? - A Firebreak!

Brother Randy

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