Fifth in a series reflecting on the firestorm that occurred in the International Churches of Christ and told as a parable of the Great Chicago Fire and lessons from Scripture. To read the entire series of articles, see After the Fire.
- Reject the wood, hay and straw in how our own lives and our churches were built. Some of the poor building materials like arrogance, impatience, excessive accountability, lack of love for the weak, etc have been well-documented. Make your own list, present it to God and let him redeem it from its empty way of life. Be careful not to project your list onto every other disciple and church. A few are convinced that we should rush back to build exactly as we did before, not learning from God's discipline. A few more are convinced we shouldn't build at all – also not learning from God's discipline. It is encouraging that neither of those views is carrying the day.
- Keep what was built of gold, silver and precious stones. The fire has revealed those ministries and hearts that were built well and those that were not. We don't fully appreciate the hundreds of churches around the world who lost their original leadership and half of their missions funding overnight, yet are still faithful, growing deeper and higher and are still planting churches. They don't fully understand the fire, but they are still preaching the gospel. There is something golden about that. Deep connection to God, to each other and to the lost are still the building blocks God gave Jesus and the early Christians. Those who would toss them out with the ruble of distorted discipleship, evangelism and relationships will either build on the sand or will build out of wood, hay and straw that is simply new to them.
- Don't regret your sacrifice. Have you added up all the money you gave to God to plant churches around the world and played this game: "What could I have bought with that money?" What if Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Jesus or the apostles had done this? What if the people who studied the Bible with us had this attitude? What if God reconsidered his sacrifice to save me? Whether everything went right or not is not the point. How God views it is the only thing that matters. If we were laying down our lives for him, he will honor our sacrifice. Whatever we could buy with that money will burn.
- Respond to God's discipline with faith, love and security. According to the Lord, we should feel more secure as sons and daughters when He disciplines us – not less.
"And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said,'My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.'"
-- Hebrews 12:5-12 (NLT)
We tend to react to God's discipline the way we react to discipline in other areas of our life. Do we pout? Lash back? Run away? Blame others? Block it out? Or like some who are more guilt prone, do we take on more of the responsibility than is ours? At the Last Supper, Peter wouldn't let Jesus wash his feet at first (John 13). When Jesus convicted him, Peter wanted to be washed all over. Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean." -- John 13:10 (NIV)
The firestorm is not about who is right and who is wrong or who to blame. It is about God being a good Father disciplining his children. Once we have heard his love and his lessons, we should prepare for the harvest of righteousness and peace.
"Then will I purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD
and serve him shoulder to shoulder.From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings.On that day you will not be put to shame
for all the wrongs you have done to me,
because I will remove from this city
those who rejoice in their pride.
Never again will you be haughty
on my holy hill.But I will leave within you the meek and humble,
who trust in the name of the LORD."-- Zephaniah 3:9-12 (NIV)
To read the entire series of articles, see After the Fire