Each year up at the cabin, my youngest girls eagerly await the opportunity to walk with their great uncle to the compost bin. Now, let’s be honest, not many people eagerly await composting! But they squeal with glee at the invitation. Their great uncle is very purposeful in all that he does and each step he takes in life and in trash is very intentional! Only certain items get composted and the fire is prepared in the proper way. With him, getting rid of the trash is a learning opportunity unlike anything else!
After chatting about the miracles of composting, the next step is to burn everything. While the smells from the trash burning don’t entice many in our family, the girls know that togetherness is worth more than the smells that deter everyone else. After all, the fire isn’t really about burning, it’s about a treasured time of laughing and learning with one of their favorite people in the world. It’s a time where they learn about decomposition and bears, Jesus and jokes. And the fire always ends with a sweet s’more to seal the lessons in life.
When we think about fire we know that it can be the conduit for pleasure and pain alike. Most of us can recall memories of accidental fires, campfires, forest fires and everything in between. One thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that fire changes whatever is near it. It is unpredictable and humbling. It is amazing and all-consuming! The combination of what we smell, feel and taste when we are near it etches us with memories that remain when nothing else does.
In my own life, I have known sweet memories of blazing fires with backyard worship circles and crackling flames with hot dogs under breathtaking stars. Yet, I have also known raging fires that took the life of a family friend and consumed our entire household of belongings. Fires are undeniably powerful – for the good and the bad. They can consume every tangible thing, while still leaving the remains of things that cannot be consumed. Lives and belongings can be lost to fire, but what emerges from the ashes is what truly remains. Whether metal or memories, some things cannot be damaged by fire.
A dear friend of ours also experienced a house fire. Although everything in their home burnt to a crisp, miraculously one thing remained – a calendar from Voice of the Martyrs with a verse from Psalms 34:15 that read, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.”
This verse was something they clung to as they faced the trial of losing all their belongings and uprooting their whole life. Trials like this can remind us that things in life can be shaken. Jobs can be lost, relationships can experience separation and sickness can come when we least expect. Another friend of mine faced kidnapping and persecution for his faith. Yet somehow, he and his wife learned to stay faithful to Jesus as they waited for Him to bring them to safety. For people of all ages, trials do come. Living in this world ensures that trials cannot be avoided. During this past year or so, many of us have experienced the reality of this firsthand. While our trials may not have been as extreme as a house fire or kidnapping, many of us were forced us to face the reality that many things in life can be shaken. Even things that many thought couldn’t be shaken were turned upside down in a heartbeat.
As we take a step closer to the return of Christ with each day, we should not be surprised when fiery trials come. As James says in Chapter 1, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Whether the trial lasts five minutes, a week, or a few years, we know that God will meet us in whatever things are shaken in our life to draw us nearer to Himself. We know that these kinds of trials, as well as others like earthquakes and forest fires, will come in the days before Christ’s return. We also know that His joy will fill our hearts in ways that we never thought imaginable. In His kindness, He meets us as we are and is ready to walk through these trials with us, patiently revealing to us His love. Through the Holy Spirit, He gently leads us to discover His mercy. In His great mercy, He offers us a way to eternity, a way to relationship with Him that can never be shaken. How else can someone experiencing persecution laugh and dance and have hope? How else can someone facing cancer remain peaceful? Nothing else but the hope of Christ and His return produces this kind of joy in the face of fiery trials.
In Hebrews 12: 25-29 we read, “Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” These trials that we face in this world where everything can be shaken give us an opportunity to recognize what truly remains in our hearts when things are shaken. These trials leave us with many questions.
We wonder, do we trust that Jesus Christ will return and restore all men unto himself? Do we have faith in His promises? Do we have hope that He will heal all diseases? A trust that He will make all things right?
This is His way. The way of the kingdom of God. And through His love, we are welcome to be a part of this kingdom. For when Christ returns, every eye will see and every tongue will confess, that He is the Christ, the Holy and Righteous one!
This year, the pastors of our youth felt led to choose the above verses for the theme of Fall Retreat. Recognizing that our youth faced many trials over this last year and that they continue to see the world around them shaken, they need the hope that only the kingdom of God provides.
Would you pray for the youth that attended the Fall Retreat this year? Would you ask the Holy Spirit to give them conviction of their sin? Ask for them to have hope for their future as they believe in God’s promises? Confidence that they are chosen by the Father to be a part of the kingdom of God?
As each of us face trials of many kinds, and as our youth consider the trials of their own lives, may we each come before the throne of God humbled and hopeful. For our God is a consuming fire, and He will bring justice and righteousness to this earth when He restores it for all of eternity! As we await that day, let us give thanks and rejoice for our salvation draws near!