Saturday, January 26, 2008

Wildfire!


  During an adult Sunday school class, our teacher mentioned a time when, as a young man, he heard some older Christians in his church commenting on the behavior of young people as the power of God fell on them. They called it “wildfire”. As he said that term I recalled a time from my own past as a teen-ager. A similar thing was happening in my home church in Alabama. And while God moved, I heard a chuckle and the whispered, “It’s just wildfire.”
        I was so struck by this that I paused in listening to search my mind on the subject. “What, exactly, is wildfire?” I asked myself. My previous understanding of the word was that it is a random, very quick, very hot fire that is soon extinguished. People use it to describe fads, shallow experience in the spiritual and some types of forest fires. Wildfire used as I understood it, was simply something that becomes hugely popular or destructive, dies out and is never heard from again.
        When I got home I got my trusty dictionary and looked up wildfire. What I read set wheels turning in my head. Wildfire is not what I thought. There are five definitions in my American Heritage College Dictionary. They are as follows:
1.     A raging, rapidly spreading fire.
2.     Something that acts very quickly and intensely.
3.     Lightning occurring without audible thunder.
4.     A luminosity that appears over swamps or marshes at night. Also called “ignis fatuus” or “foolish fire.”
5.     A highly flammable material once used in warfare.
        Throughout my life, I have often noticed that when the power of God falls, it acts as a raging, rapidly spreading fire. It moves quickly and intensely, spreading across the room in a wave of spiritual heat, sparing only those who resist. When it’s work is done, everything that can be consumed in the human heart, is consumed.
        We have all seen summer heat lightning or wildfire. Usually the sky is cloudy, threatening rain. The air is hot and so thick you could cut it. Then lightning streaks across the sky, over and over. There is no sound, just those amazing flashes. You think the storm is coming, may fervently hope so, but often nothing happens. . . at least, not where you are. Actually, the center of the storm is so far away you can’t hear the thunder, and you never experience the effects of the storm. Light travels about a million times faster than sound. At the origin of that lightning is a raging storm and those beneath it feel its effects, often intensely. So too, those who only see spiritual wildfire, seldom experience the effects of the spiritual storm.
        Before flashlights and electricity, the countryside was a dark place. Swamps and marshes were even darker and marsh lights have led people to their deaths. The more common name for this type of wildfire is “will-o’-the-wisp”. An unwary person can be lost if they are not aware of the nature of this wildfire. Once thought to be lost souls doomed to wander, we now know that this wildfire is the burning of a gas produced in swamps and marshes. This gas, called methane, is created by the natural breakdown of decaying matter.
        Methane is a very useful but highly explosive gas when combined with air, oxygen, or chlorine. It can ignite spontaneously and results in a very hot fire. The fuel in some acetylene torches is formed from methane. The heat generated by an acetylene torch can reach up to 6000 degrees and will burn virtually anything. Obviously, wildfire is not something to play with or treat lightly.
        Greek fire was the name of an ancient weapon, probably a primitive form of napalm, used by the Byzantine Greeks. Upon striking the target, this material stuck, spread, and burned. It was used in two ways: as a missile hurled from a catapult, and in flame-throwers. It was very useful against ships because it burned even under water. One text states it may even have changed the course of history. In AD 716-718 the rulers of Constantinople, who were Christians, destroyed the wooden fleets of the Muslim Arabs who had besieged the city. As a result, this blocked the spread of Islam into Europe. If you fail to see the significance of this one use of “wildfire “ you have missed it all.
        Sometimes wildfire is necessary to clear the way for growth. As anyone who understands nature can tell you, a forest can become overgrown. The useless undergrowth of weeds and shrubs choke out light and air, causing a decrease in young, healthy trees and eventually, diseases which can kill off a forest. Nature has taken this into consideration and fixes it, often by lightning wildfires. A lightning wildfire will rapidly and efficiently clear the undergrowth without causing undue harm to healthy trees. Once this useless undergrowth is cleared, young trees quickly sprout and grow. As trees age and die, young trees are waiting to fill their place. When Yellowstone burned so badly several years ago people were surprised at how quickly it began to recover. Within a year, new growth appeared everywhere and wildlife increased dramatically. The conservation officers revealed that the seeds of most of the conifers in Yellowstone would not germinate, or sprout, until they were heated.
        “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.”  Acts 2:3. Looks like wildfire has been around a long time. Perhaps we all need a little wildfire.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Time: A Place To Pray


© August, 1998 Cynthia Maddox
I have a special room that is all my own. The walls are lined with books and a lovely, thick, dark blue carpet covers the floor. A comfortable chair sits in a corner of this room. Next to it stands a small table with a lamp by which I can read. A window seat is piled with pillows on which I can relax and read. My computer is here so I can write. For times I feel like creating something to wear, my sewing machine is stored in a cabinet. There is a lock on the door to this room for the times I want to shut myself away.
It is a lovely room but not real. The reality is that I have no place like that in my home or anywhere else. When my children were small I had a spare bedroom all to myself where I wrote, sewed and had private time to read or pray. Now, they are teenagers needing their space. When I work there are phones and people. At home there are phones and people. Sometimes I want to run away just to be alone. 
Our hectic lives often make it difficult to keep up with all the demands, especially women in the ‘90’s. More often than not we will have a full-time job, in addition to one or two children. If you are a Christian working mother, there are even more demands on your time. Non-Christian women may have time for a hobby or some form of entertainment, but Christian women have church services during the week. In addition to attending a ladies or prayer meetings, she must also find time to have daily prayer. And let’s not forget the cooking and cleaning. It is no wonder some women come to church looking like they just participated in a marathon, were mugged or never went to bed the night before. As for cranky, well I dare any man to try it for a week and still smile.
I’ve been many kinds of mom, stay-at-home, army, working and homeschooling. For five years I was a college mom. I was a full-time student with two children at home in 1992-1994. My husband’s job took him away from home for weeks at a time. Most of the time I was tired. No friends or family lived nearby to help with the kids or help out if my car broke down or if I became sick. And instead of offering to help with my load, my Christian “friends” criticized me for missing one service a week.
My day was long. I got up, got the kids off to school and was at school myself by 8 or 9 a.m. Upon my return the kids were usually already there. I helped with homework and cooked supper. Then I cleaned the kitchen, did laundry, got the kids bathed and helped with unfinished homework. I might have had time to relax but usually the boys were in bed by 9 o’clock so I could do my homework. I went to bed around one or two a. m. At 6:30 I began again. Saturday I cleaned the whole house and did laundry.
Donna became my best non-christian friend in college. One morning, during a break, we were discussing our harried lifestyles. As we discussed all the demands on our time she made a profound statement. She said, “We need wives.”  We often joked about how much was required of us and how our husbands came in and got their favorite chair, asked for supper, and took a nap. It wasn’t really funny but it helped us deal with the frustrations. After college we both went to work. When we compared notes we found we were still doing the day job and the housework while hubby napped.
So when did I pray during the five years it took me to finish school? There were days when I was at home alone for several hours. I did a lot of studying then. I used some of that time for prayer. “Free” time remained a rare thing.
Every morning I drove 15 miles to school alone and in the afternoon I returned home. In semesters when I had a night class once or twice a week I made up to four round trips a day. On those frequent trips, I noticed people talking on their car phones, singing with the radio or just riding. I seldom listen to the radio in the car and I don't have a car phone. So I began to talk to the Lord. I told him of my worries all the way to school. At times, I drove to school thanking God for all He had done for me. I cried on my way home because I loved Him so much. Often I would arrive home unable to remember the trip.
I repeatedly apologized to the Lord for praying in such a manner. Many times a voice would whisper:  this isn’t really praying; you look so silly talking to yourself; what will people think; and God doesn’t listen to this kind of praying. But I kept praying. I had to!  I needed to talk to Him.
It reached the point that every time I got in my car I began automatically to talk to God. I didn’t realize how far it had gone until the day one of the boys and I had to go somewhere. As soon as I got in the car I began talking quietly to myself and he said, “Mom, who are you talking to?”  I just stopped and stared at him. I was so startled I didn’t know what to say. I had instinctively begun praying the moment I started the car! That was the day I learned one of the many truths about God.
The scripture in Thessalonians which says to pray without ceasing has always puzzled me. I have pondered the idea of constant prayer often, but I didn’t see how anyone could do it. I discovered I was wrong. We can become so used to praying that it becomes instinctive, even in strange and unusual places. We can automatically break into praise and worship without thinking about it. Instinctive prayer!  What a concept.
Some may say if you aren’t kneeling, it isn’t prayer. Too bad for the man with no legs. I once heard someone suggest that you can’t have a real relationship with God without an hour a day in prayer. Perhaps they had a whole hour every day, uninterrupted, in private. I don’t. Not many people do and so they just don’t pray at all. After all, if you can’t meet the requirements, why bother. Right?  Wrong.
Others will say this type of prayer has no  meaning because there is no conscious thought. It is true that no conscious thought is involved, but it is not true that the mind is not involved.
Every natural process in the human body is done without conscious thought. You don’t have to think about breathing because your body knows how to do it. You don’t have to tell your eyes to blink to keep them moist. Even your dreams are controlled by your brain without your conscious thought. And it is possible to learn to control your dreams while you are asleep. I’ve done it.
What could be more natural than to pray to the Creator?  Words are formed in our mind and our mind tells our voice to speak. The Bible said “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” Our heart and our mind appear to be linked. How could what I call instinctive prayer be meaningless if the mind/heart is involved in the process.
Prayer was meant to be just as natural as our breathing or our heart beat. It was intended as a means of constant communication between us and the Creator. We should find ourselves breaking into prayer for no reason, at unusual times, in unusual places. There should be prayer over our dishes, toilets, and car engines. I don’t mean roll in the floor, jump up and down, top of your lungs prayer (unless you want that, but be prepared for strange looks, especially from your children.). No, I mean conversation and thanks for all the blessings we have been given. God loves it when we just talk to Him!  If we spent more time talking to God this way, we might find some of our heavy-duty prayers get answered a lot quicker and more often.
Perhaps we should stop worrying so much about a “special place” or a “special time” to pray. If you have either, use it and be thankful. If you don’t perhaps you should be more concerned with making the time special. Take a ride in the country or to work and make your time a place to pray.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Divine Inspiration or Human Perspiration?


       Who wrote the Bible?  How many times have Christians been asked this question by those seeking only to debate?  It is a question that often leads to a feeling of frustration and aggravation for those who are expected to have the answer – namely, Christians.  What a question.  And those asking aren’t going to like the answer anyway.
Did someone just start writing these stories in the Bible and add to them until someone decided it would make a best seller called the Bible?  Did God dictate the words to all those men in different centuries, cultures and languages?  
Long before it was a written document the stories of the Bible had been handed down for generations around campfires.  Oral stories were the only way to pass on the cultural identity of a people. In ancient cultures those in charge of carrying the history were taught carefully. 
The “tellers” were told the stories long before they could talk themselves.  They were expected to learn, remember and retell the events that defined the nation.  To not do this would have been considered a terribly loss by the nation and in fact, there is one point in the Bible where the oral history and traditions were not being passed down.
And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10
In God’s sight, this was a crime so bad that He punished Israel.
The first fully developed system of writing is only about 5,000 years old – far younger than the human race.  Early writing was done on wet clay tablets with special pens and invented by the Sumerians.  The shortest written item required painstaking time.
Even after the invention of writing the many cultures, including the Hebrews, still loved to recite the history of their nation.  Read the Psalms of David in which he recounts great moments in Israel’s history.  The Psalms and other historical poetry was written to read aloud so the nation would not forget. 
Since each generation had more to learn, you can understand why it was absolutely necessary to invent writing.  Try telling the history of the world on a cold winter evening. 
So, the Bible was thousands of years in the making.  It wasn’t even complete as we know it in Jesus’ day.   Jesus and the disciples in their letters quoted from texts that are not even in our current KJV  of the Bible!  Many texts that were considered sacred by the Hebrews are not included in the KJV.  In the Gospels they tell us that they could not include all the things that Jesus did.   One of the things I learned in news writing was that there is a lot more of a story that you don’t know.
As for God dictating the words, well, the Bible said “All scripture is given by inspiration  of God” not by dictation. For those who don’t know, dictation is where someone literally speaks to you and you write down their exact words with no omissions. 
Inspiration, on the other hand, occurs when you see, hear, or experience something that stimulates you to action, it motivates you. All writing is “inspired” by something – good or bad. 
Today there are those who say that because human bias is involved in all writing this “inspirational” type of writing the Scriptures can’t be completely true.  It is accurate to say that human bias is evident in all writing.  This is what causes skeptics to ask questions.  And questions are not bad. They drive humans to seek answers!
For example, the Gospels have several instances of apparent conflicts.  Examine the way one gospel will describe an event that is also described in another gospel. However, the differences are not because someone made a mistake.    
I noticed this when I read the story of the crucifixion where Peter cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest.  In John’s gospel Peter is named but in no other gospel is he named as the person who cut off the servant’s ear.   Why?  They were all there.  They all had to know it was Peter.   And even though the gospels are written 50 years after Jesus’ death they would not have forgotten that night.  Yet, only John named Peter as the offender.  Why?  And why did the others not name him in their description?  Were they embarrassed or did they desire to spare Peter further embarrassment?  Maybe. 
Did John have a reason, other than accuracy for naming him?  Maybe.  Could John have been experiencing a little human jealousy of Peter?  Remember, John was the beloved disciple but Peter had been given the keys of the kingdom given.  We can’t know the answer and it may be nothing more than oversight on the part of the three other disciples. That alone intrigues me. I would find it hard to believe that all but one disciple forgot who cut off that man’s ear.  It is an interesting puzzle.
Read passages such as this carefully and you may be able tell something about the personality of the writer by comparing the way writer describes an event with the same event described by another writer in another gospel.
Another instance is in the recounting of the Sons of Thunder seeking a special place in the kingdom.  In Matt. 20:20 we are told that the mother of the Sons of Zebedee came to Jesus and asked that her sons be given places on Jesus’ right and left when he comes into his kingdom.  Yet in Mark 10:35 it is James and John who come to Jesus with this request.  So who did ask?  Both stories say that the other ten disciples were angry with James and John for asking such a thing.  Remember, the “right hand” in scripture denotes power. 
Well, as a mother, I can believe that that mother just might have made this request.  Matthew says she came with her sons, “worshipping him”.  So she knew what power she was addressing.  Or maybe the boys had asked Mom to ask for them.  Maybe Matthew knew this and was simply being accurate. 
Let’s say Mark also knew that the boys had put their mother up to this. In light of how women were viewed in that culture, at that time in history, it is conceivable that Mark may have discerned the source of the request and simply cut to the meat of the matter, not mentioning the mother.  James and John were the ones desiring elevation; Mom was just a means to an end.
Interestingly, in this example, if you take things literally, it appears that either Matthew was mistaken or Mark was mistaken.  Or you might assume that after 50 years anyone might be a little unclear.  A person looking for discrepancies latches on to this type of example to prove there are errors in scripture. 
Since I believe the Word is true, I believe this is simply an example of perspective.  In both of these examples the event did not change, only the way it is perceived changed.  Two different writers saw the same event happen and wrote about it in different ways—the way they saw it
That is why discernment by the Spirit is so valuable in reading scripture.  You must be able to strip away the writer’s bias and get to the inspired Word.  To say a writer has no bias is an error in thinking.  Time is not a factor to God and His creation (humans) has not changed since He did the creating.   The men who wrote the Bible were exactly like men today.  Every writer leaves his mark on everything he writes.  It is the very thing that helps Bible scholars identify books written by different authors, particularly when the name of the writer is not known. 
In 2 Peter the Bible says, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”  Holy men of God, motivated or inspired by the Holy Ghost, wrote the Scriptures and prophesied.  It doesn’t say the Holy Ghost spoke.  It says they, the men, spoke as they were moved on.  
What motivated the writers of the Bible?  An old, little used definition for the word inspire means to breathe on” or to inhale.”  God “breathed on” all writers of the Bible and they “inhaled” that “breath”.  What does that feel like? 
As a writer I can tell you that there is something inside me struggling, always struggling, to get out, to be said. That is what moves me to write.  When I am able to put it on paper, it is one of the greatest feelings in the world.  Writer’s block is a living nightmare to a writer.  The struggle goes on but there is no relief.
I can also tell you that when God is the motivator a writer will often write things he or she doesn’t want to write but which a driving urgency demands that he write.  And while God has often given me things to write, it is never easy to get it right.  The things that come from Him are the hardest to put into words.  It takes a lot longer too.  I have to pray over everything I write, while I am writing it!  Then I have to leave it awhile, pray, and start again. 
I suspect a similar thing occurs with preachers.  They choose the words they will use to convey a particular thought. However, the thought may not be their own but rather, the direction of the Spirit.  Finding words that accurately convey the thought is often difficult.   Two preachers may have the same thought but use different words to convey that thought.  Again, it is never easy to get it right.  And sometimes, when they are done, they still wonder if they got it right.  Ask any preacher.  I have no doubt that true men of God must earnestly seek the face of God before they can deliver a message from God. 
So who wrote the Bible?  It depends on who you ask.