Tongues of fire

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Luke 3:16-17 (NIV)

Water cleans.

John’s baptism was and still is symbolic of a spiritual cleansing, but it could never be anything more. We use water baptism as an outward symbol of an inner change. Our minds and our souls (mind, will, and emotions) must be engaged when we make the choice to be baptised in water. It is a sign of commitment to Christ.

Fire purifies.

It is only the baptism of the Holy Spirit that brings about true purification. All three parts of our being—body, soul, and spirit—must be engaged to receive this baptism. It is a sign of reliance on Christ.

Anyone can be baptised in water. Some experience great change and profess to feel something more than wet when they resurface. To some, it is merely a public declaration of their commitment to Jesus.

Anyone can be baptised in the Holy Spirit, but not everyone will display the evidence of it—tongues.

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Acts 2:3-4 (NIV)

Holy Spirit baptism connects us to the Father in a way that nothing else can. The fire of the Spirit, the one John spoke of in the Gospel of Luke, cleanses us from within. If we allow it, it will burn away the impurities from our lives. But the key is submission and complete reliance. So long as we fight for control, we will never allow the Spirit to work in us.

There are those who would seek to tame and control the power of the Holy Spirit, but it is not ours to control. Rather, we must give ourselves over to His control. As contradictory as it may seem, there is no greater freedom to be found than when we give over control of our lives to the Spirit of God. It is only then that we have an even greater bond with the Father and an ability to pray His perfect will.

Neither water baptism nor baptism in the Holy Spirit are required of us to gain entrance into Heaven. But if God has provided for us a way to be even closer to Him, why would we not jump at the opportunity?

Read: Joshua 9-10, Luke 3

Hurry hard!

Read: Numbers 32-33, Mark 10:1-31

Up here, in the Great White North, we like curling. Not our hair. The sport. If you’re not familiar with it, here is a brief explanation. If you’re from a land of indoor or summer sports, curling is the winter version of shuffleboard or bocce ball. One addition is brooms. Yes, brooms. A large, and very heavy, polished stone is pushed down a sheet of ice. A sweeper (or two) then sweep a little (or a lot) depending on how the rock was thrown. More importantly from clearing any debris from the ice, the friction, and subsequent heat created by sweeping can actually change the speed and direction of the stone as it glides down the rink. A common command for more vigorous sweeping is, “Hurry hard!”

While I’m quite certain that curling did not exist in ancient Canaan, I am certain that God intended for His people to do a quick and clean sweep of the land ahead of them.

Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places.

Numbers 33:51-52 (NIV)

You see, in order to fully possess the Promised Land and maintain said possession, Israel was commanded to sweep it clean. The quality of their sweep held the potential to change the direction of an entire nation of people. Like curling without sweeping isn’t really curling, possessing the Promised Land in any other manner than the one prescribed by God isn’t really possessing.

The same goes for our lives. When we give our lives over to God, He wants everything. Everything, everything. Even those little things that we say aren’t harming anyone. He wants us to do a clean sweep so that our lives can change direction.

And, He doesn’t want us to do it a little bit at a time. We need to hurry. Hard. Notice that God’s command said, “When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you.” God knew that if they waited to get rid of the pagan filth of the Canaanites, they would never get rid of it all—which is exactly what happened.

We cannot expect a different outcome than the Israelites. If God’s chosen people, those He had cut a covenant with, would not be spared just because of who they were, what makes us think we’d be any different? If we, like Israel, refuse to rid our lives of all sin, we cannot expect all of the victory, either.

But we don’t have to do it alone.

Mark 10-27.jpg

Jesus didn’t just throw out this statement as though God were a great magician, able to conjure up anything we wish. He was talking about salvation, being able to leave our old lives behind to walk on the new path before us.

Even though they gained their Promised Land, Israel didn’t fully succeed in the plan God had for them. They got lazy and complacent once they reached their final stop. Perhaps all they needed was a skip hollering from the other end of the rink. Like ripping off a bandage, the faster you accomplish the task, the better. It may hurt more in the moment, but it will only last a moment.

So when it’s time for you to sweep something out of your life, don’t wait. Hurry. Hurry hard.

Distinguish

Read: Leviticus 10-12, Matthew 26:1-19

Let’s face it, once we’ve read through the incredible story of creation, the flood, Joseph and the exodus from Egypt, the Bible can get a little boring. It feels as though we’re in the doldrums and may never get out. But just because we don’t live under the old covenant doesn’t mean that the ideas and reasoning behind all those commands no longer apply to us.

But all of that was for the priests, wasn’t it? Yup, it sure was.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

Now that we’ve established that we are priests, we can look at some of this in a different light.

Leviticus 10:10

Before we start trying to make any distinctions, let’s find out what we’re trying to distinguish.*

HOLY: Properly, whole, entire or perfect, in a moral sense. Hence, pure in heart, temper or dispositions; free from sin and sinful affections.

COMMON: Usual; ordinary. Of no rank or superior excellence.

UNCLEAN: Not clean; foul; dirty; filthy. In the Jewish law, ceremonially impure, not cleansed by ritual practices.

CLEAN: Free from extraneous matter, or whatever is injurious or offensive. Free from dirt or other foul matter. Free from moral impurity; innocent.

There are some that believe God pulled some of His instructions out of a hat simply to see if Israel would obey. But since God had purpose in everything else He’d accomplished up to that point, I find it difficult to believe He’d throw in a few random instructions just to watch His people squirm.

In some cases, the instructions were for health reasons and, in other cases, the instructions were for cultural reasons. In everything God required of His people, the end result was that they were set apart. They were not like the other nations in the way they lived or worshipped. All of the parameters set before them set them on a straight and clear path to God Himself.

If we look at these instructions in that light, they certainly do apply to us.

God wants us to be set apart. Pure in heart. Free from sin and sinful affections. Why would we even want to be ordinary? God wants us to be free from extraneous matter. Why would we even want to foul up our lives with dirt or anything that is injurious or offensive? Just as these things applied to the priests under the old covenant, they apply to us all today.

Being set apart doesn’t mean we’re a weird cult with special Kool Aid. It simply means that we’ve been called to live a different life, free from distractions that would separate us from God. Everything we choose to keep in our lives that doesn’t make us clean or holy is a roadblock or pothole in our path to God. It hinders our relationship with Him.

God is not a backyard bully trying to make us do tricks to be mean. All He wants is a clear path between He and us. Jesus’ blood left the door open, but it’s up to us to distinguish that which either clears or clutters our path.

*As usual, my definitions are coming from Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.

Inside out

Read: Exodus 37-38, Matthew 23:23-39

These days, most everyone has a camera within reach. And many, instead of aiming it at the beauty around them, aim it at themselves. With a bit of makeup and a photo filter or two, anyone can be a model. We count friends, likes, and followers like a game score. Like it really matters.

Jesus referred to people like this as blind guides, hypocrites, wicked, snakes, vipers, and worse.

Exodus 23:25b-26

The Pharisees were excellent showmen. They dressed the part and played it perfectly.  Phineas T. Barnum said in The Greatest Showman, “People come to my shows for the pleasure of being hoodwinked.” People generally don’t want to have to admit that something is wrong. They’d rather cover it up and act as though everything is better than fine.

But here’s the thing, like whitewashed tombs, the more paint that goes on, the more obvious it is to everyone how dirty the truth really is. No amount of paint can cover the stench of death. The whole point in whitewashing graves was so that they could be avoided. Even unintentional contact with a burial mound would result in ceremonial uncleanliness.

The more time we spend trying to cover up the ugliness on the inside, the less time we have to actually deal with it. As difficult as it may be to start, one can achieve far better results by taking care of the inside first. Because by taking care of the inside, the outside will take care of itself.

If you don’t want your inside to show outside, maybe it’s time to clean house. Inside out should be easy, not avoided.

Evaporate

I know of only one way that can take pure water from soil—evaporation. You can try to strain it, but without an elaborate filtration system, the effort would be futile.

All of us die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. That is why God tries to bring us back when we have been separated from him. He does not sweep away the lives of those he cares about—and neither should you!

2 Samuel 14:14 (NLT)

If you’re chilling outside with a large glass of water sitting on the ground next to you and someone comes and kicks it over, you’re not going to try to salvage that water from the ground. You’re going to go refill your glass from the tap or a bottle. Once that water has been separated from the glass and become one with the earth, you have no use for it. It’s done for. You may even move your chair to cover the spot so you don’t soil your feet by stepping in it. It’s a mess.

At some point we all were (or maybe still are) a mess. We are that water spilled on the ground—impossible to put back where it came from. Only God can draw us out of the muck. We can try to scoop it all into a container. Maybe the dirt will settle and clear water will sit on top, but a little agitation will make it murky again. We can try to filter it through a strainer, but the fine bits of dirt and dust follow the water through and nothing will make that water clear again.

Or we can let God draw us out. He can gently lift us from the dirt like water evaporating in the warm air. We are pulled to Him in our purest form. All the dirt is left behind and we become clean again.

Let the clouds serve as a reminder of God’s grace and ability to draw you to Him. When He brings you out of the muck, all the dirt is left behind and you’ve been made pure.

Daily Bible reading: 2 Samuel 13-14, Luke 20:1-26

The Law of Love

Do you ever read through the Old Testament and wonder at all the laws, rules, and regulations? Those people had a lot to live up to. And then we think, man, am I glad we don’t have to live like that. But do you every wonder why the Israelites had to live up to such high standards?

Let’s take out all the sacrifices—we know that Jesus came and was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. What about everything else? Why did God give so many instructions on how to live life?

You’ll note that much of it was practical—don’t do your business among the tents, go away from everyone, dig a hole, and bury it. Makes sense. This kept disease from spreading. The same goes for people with skin rashes and mildew in homes. They were quarantined until considered clean and then there was a process for reintroduction back into society.

God not only set Israel apart to be holy, but He called them apart to be clean—in the literal sense. Canaan, after all, was a land filled with people who had defiled themselves in all manner of ways. Not only were they dirty, they were diseased.

God even gave instructions regarding the crops—Israel wouldn’t be allowed to eat the fruit of the trees they planted until the fifth year. There are several reasons for this, the first being that a new tree will not produce good fruit in its first years. If it is cut back and pruned early on, it will be more productive later. Second, God was deserving of the first fruits—the reason why the fruit of the fourth year belonged to Him. By year five, if the Israelites had followed God’s commands, the fruit would be plentiful and sweet.

God doesn’t give us rules to watch us squirm under the weight of them. He gave the law out of love. All the instructions He gave to Israel were for their own good. For their health. For their prosperity. For their pleasure.

We can have more freedom and be more fruitful within the boundaries God has given to us than we can outside of His love.

Daily Bible reading: Leviticus 18-19, Matthew 27:32-66