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[August 19, 2008]  There’s something about fire that mesmerizes us, attracts us, draws us in. Its raw power and energy has amazing potential to be used for good—to heat our homes, to give us light, to cook our food, create spaces where we tell stories and connect with each other—and also to destroy as it consumes whatever we throw into it. It’s untamed, we can’t understand it, and it carries the potential to break out into something so totally beyond us. It’s a thing of awe, a thing of terror, a thing of beauty and a thing that has often inspired worship.

DonutsTonight I followed a group of men as we made our way out past the east side of campus, to some trucks and dumpsters. At the time I was walking, I didn’t know where we were going or what we would find. As I got there, I saw guys pulling wood pallets out of the dumpsters, peeling off the plastic and bindings and tossing them to the ground where they were then loaded on trucks. Cardboard boxes soon followed, and clothes, and stuffed animals. “Will it burn?” We loaded the trucks, threw pallets on top, carried the trash by the armfuls to a fire that was already started.


Pallets were added to the fire, then cardboard boxes, then clothes, then more pallets, and the bonfire was banked higher and higher, the heat emanating from it tremendous as we stood twenty feet away, then thirty, then forty.

“We’re in Lincoln,” somebody said. “A little dot on the map. We want the planes to see this.” Raw power. Pure energy. Powerful, untamed, visible, with the potential to break out uncontrolled. But what I think this guy was saying was, “I want to leave a mark. I want to make a difference. I want to do something big, even if it’s in Lincoln, Illinois.”

As I looked into the flames, and saw dancing orange and yellow flames, felt the heat singe my face and hands, and then looked around the fire at the scared, excited, invincible faces, I tried to figure out what was going on. Here was energy and power in the fire. Here was energy and power and the spirit of invincibility and something reckless in the faces of the men around me. Part of me was afraid of the potential force for destruction. Part of me wanted to listen for something bigger.

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In ancient cultures fire was used for cooking, for light, for religious ceremonies and sacrifices. People passed through the fire, whether it was walking on hot coals like some cultures still practice, or a metaphor for human sacrifice. There was something destructive, primal, and representative of worship and spiritual practice in the fire.

Maybe it’s no surprise that God first appeared to Moses as a fire that could not be consumed on the mountain. It grabbed his attention, drew him in. I don’t know how long it took him to realize that the bush wasn’t burning, but he was captivated. God had mesmerized him, lured him in to show him what He was up to.


At times God used fire to light the way for the Hebrews as they were wandering in the desert places or running from the Egyptians. God’s fire consumed Sodom and Gomorrah, Nadab and Abihu, and consumed Elijah’s offering as he was competing against the prophets of Baal. Fire is a powerful, dangerous, and awe-inspiring thing. The same words could be used to describe God.

In Matthew, John talks about Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with fire. In Acts, the Holy Spirit came on Jesus’ followers as tongues of fire, the writer of Hebrews says that God is a consuming fire, and Paul says not to quench the fire of the Spirit.

In us is potential for great fire. I saw it tonight, and wondered which way the fires would burn. Would we destroy, or is there something in us that wants to be part of something big, powerful, unpredictable, a fire that cannot be quenched, a following the ways of God in such a way that will leave a mark, that will burn into our hearts and minds and hands and feet, that will be permanent. Fire can be quenched, it can destroy, it can do terrible things, but my prayer is that this year will ignite a God fire in us, that will leave its mark on us, consume us, mesmerize us. And we will never be the same.

[Cliff Wheeler - LCC Faculty]


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