Acquire the Fire

Acquire the Fire

Isaiah 6:1-7

John 13:1-35

Listen to Acquire the Fire


In the Netflix show Tidying Up, Japanese organizing consultant and author Marie Kondo helps couples declutter their lives and choose joy with the Kon Marie method of tiding up.  Basically, Kondo meets with couples and has them go through all their possessions, touching them one by one. Any possession that does not “spark joy” when it is touched gets thrown out. By decluttering Kondo aims to bring joy, passion, and order back into people’s lives.

In the first episode of Tidying Up, Kondo meets Rachel and Kevin Friend, and yes Friend is their real last name. They are a young, attractive couple, with two young children. Kondo believes that the clutter in their home is affecting their relationship. So she enters their home, as a cheerful, petite, Japanese woman, to bring a spark of joy back into their relationship, by sorting through their possessions, allowing them to keep, only what brings them joy. And as you may suspect, at the end of the episode, with an influx of outside energy from Kondo, the couple ends up with an organized house and a renewed relationship. And we should truly hope that this is the case and they are still doing well.

At the time of the episode, Kevin and Rachel had been married for five years. Rachel and Kevin begin the episode by describing what they like about each other as well as what they dislike about each each other. To quote Rachel, “Kevin is a natural romantic and super thoughtful. What I love about him is if I am really passionate about something or want to get something done he is on board with me.” To quote Kevin, “ Rachel always has one thing on her mind and that is enjoying her life. She is super quick witted. She always wants to laugh. She always wants to make you laugh. That is what I love about her. She is a great mom. She is pretty amazing. She has amazing eyes.”

Rachel and Kevin have two kids, Jackson and Ryan. One two years old and the other four. To quote Rachel, “We planned for kids. But with kids and work things are really hard to do.”  To quote Kevin, “I feel like our house is a home but I feel like it is a constant struggle to be.” To quote Rachel,  “This place that we originally really liked and moved into we find that there is just so much stuff and we end up getting frustrated about it. He is definitely cleaner than I am okay. I am not a super dirty person. But when it comes to throwing my clothes over here and letting them pile up and leaving the laundry for a while that’s me. Kevin was definitely more organized. So I feel I came in and just wrecked that ship. Right babe? But there is so much good that came with that bad right babe?” Kevin replies, “ Right, we got two kids out of it. That’s the answer for everything.”  Not even looking at Kevin, Rachel replies with a hint of frustration and sarcasm, “ okay thanks babe.”

Later on in the show we learn that Kevin and Rachel’s backhanded sarcasm is a way of deflecting from deeper issues in their relationship. Because Rachel doesn’t like to do laundry they hire a maid to do their laundry. To paraphrase Kevin, “We fight about laundry, and it seems silly to say it, but it angers me a lot. It’s not because she doesn’t do the laundry. It’s because we hire somebody to come do it. It’s not like I am saying you do the laundry, you wash the dishes, you watch the kids. I’m saying that we got to do this together as a family.” To paraphrase Rachel’s response,” Hold on babe. With him working 50-60 hours a week, I am home with the kids more, and it is chaos. So I think to myself what is an easy resolution? If we don’t have enough time maybe we could pay someone to do these things and we would have more time.” Kevin replies, “It’s because we are perfectly capable of doing those things.” Rachel retorts, “Okay time out. I am not saying we are not capable. The reason this came up more and more is because we don’t have the time to do these things.”  Kevin looks at the camera and seems to force a smile. He says to the camera, “we’re different.” Rachel turns and looks at Kevin with an expression that is hard to identify. To me it seemed to be a mix of amusement, sadness, frustration, and affection all rolled into one. But I don’t know. I don’t know these people. And neither do millions of other people.

In life and love it is inevitable that people will disappoint us. May it be a friend, a parent, a child, a sibling, a spouse, a politician, or a pastor, we invest our love, our hope, our trust in people. There is always a honeymoon period but at some point the rose colored glasses come off, the boxing gloves come on, and we see the people we hold up as they truly are, as flawed human beings. And though we would like people to judge the book of our lives, not by our cover, but by our hearts, we are very quick to be offended by the actions and words of others who’s hearts we have not taken the time to explore or understand. In the words of Jesus, in the last days many will become offended, they will betray and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:9-14).

We live in a time of deep divisions. A time of outrage and snap judgments. A time bickering and quarrelling. It feels like a wildfire is burning the world down and yet there is no water, there is no life to put it out. A great polar vortex has descended upon the nations of this world and our hearts have grown cold and hard as ice. The fire of love has become little more than flickering embers of a camp fire drowned by a flood of bitterness and resentment. We all want to find the spark reignite our relationship some living water to quell the bitterness. We are all looking for some method, some habit, some plan, to acquire the fire.

Our church knows the dangers of fire. In the past passions have flared and threatened our unity which always happens when different people from different backgrounds who love each other dearly attempt to meld their lives to become one body, to become one family. A couple of years back there was even a physical fire during worship one Sunday here at Calvin. This building almost burnt to the ground though the people of god, the church, remained unharmed.

Our church also knows the power and promise of fire, how fire can renew us and change our lives from the inside out.  As I have listened to people here at Calvin several people have mentioned an event called Acquire the Fire,  that our youth used to attend in Richmond, VA. Acquire the fire was sponsored by a ministry called Teen Mania which was founded by Ron Luce, a graduate of Oral Roberts University. Teen Mania ministered for three decades. It’s most popular event, Acquire the Fire, began in 1991 and spread to over 33 cities. Acquire the fire was a 27 hour long event, filled with worship and teaching. A couple of adults I have talked to about this event remember fondly how youth looked forward to Acquire the fire every year. They told me how at these events our youth could let loose and worship LORD freely as themselves for where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. Unfortunately, this ministry closed down in 2014. Several people I have spoken with spoke with great sorrow about how this ministry is no longer around for our youth to be inspired by.

But what if we could have that here at Calvin? Our praise band, our choir, our organist, our worship,  shows us that the coals are hot and ready to burn.  What if we could Acquire the fire? What if we could acquire the fire in our friendships, in our romances, in our parenting, in our fellowship?  But how? How does such passion, such love, such power, come into being? And Isaiah cried out as he stood before the LORD,

, “ Woe is me For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Isaiah reports, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

The word culture, comes from the Latin root cult, which means to worship. Thus our culture is that which we worship. I believe people are attracted to a community because they sense who we worship. They sense a healthy culture, a living God in our midst. Our music, our buildings, our traditions, matter little if fire doesn’t surge through the foundations of our culture, renewing and recreating us for the next generation. As Isaiah suggests our culture comes primarily from the words we speak to each other on an everyday basis, not just our music.  In the words of Jesus, “The good person out of the good treasures of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasures produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 5:45) To speak life and not death our hearts must be filled with love and not bitterness. Our lips must be sanctified by fire not with contempt. But how? How is such a miracle to be accomplished?

The Good News: When we know what love requires of us we shall acquire the fire.

Over my vacation I attended a retreat in North Carolina sponsored by Presbyterian Reformed Missions International, an organization that teaches people to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to bring their faith alive again. There I met a Canadian pastor who had Acquired the fire. He spoke in a session about growing the local church. What he told us changed my life forever.

This pastor had been a missionary to China. He had uprooted his family and moved them across the world, to love a people very different than himself. But unfortunately, for some reason, his opportunity to minister in China ended. The door was shut. His plans were shattered. And he and his family were heartbroken. And perhaps that is where you find yourselves today. The door has been shut. Your plans have been shattered. And you are heartbroken. And even the best of us find ourselves in those circumstances. And you are not alone.

With nowhere left to go he and his family returned to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where his wife’s family was from, and where he had attended seminary at Calvin College.After some prayer, this pastor felt led to approach a little church in inner city Grand Rapids, where this man had been an intern in seminary. At the time the church had 35 members left. He loved this little church and he asked them if they needed a minister? They said they would love to have him but they had no money to pay him, and he had wife and a couple of kids to feed. Then a family stepped up and told the elder board that they felt God saying to them that He was not done with this little church. They offered to give $30,000 a year, for three years, for this minister’s salary. So this minister began to preach there. The congregation began to reach out in love to their neighborhood through their local food pantry.

Over the course of ten years the congregation grew from thirty five members to a hundred. The church even called a female co-pastor, who was a second career pastor in her sixties, to minister with this man, not as his subordinate, but as his equal.  One Sunday this man was praying before the service and he felt the Spirit tell him to throw away his manuscript and preach on Ezekiel Chapter 37. In this passage the prophet Ezekiel is taken in a vision by the LORD to a valley of dry bones. The LORD told Ezekiel to speak to the dry bones that they would be clothed with flesh and skin once again, that they would be brought back to life. Then the LORD told this pastor that he was to tell his co-pastor to pray during the sermon. And whatever the Lord told her she was to tell the congregation. And the congregation was to obey.

So this pastor stood up that Sunday, with no idea what he was going to say. And he opened his mouth. And after a stirring sermon calling dry bones back to life he turned to his co-pastor and asked her what the LORD had told her. She told the congregation that the only word she received was, “forgiveness.”

And it just so happened that during that sermon a man walked into the church who hadn’t been there for years. It just so happened that man was the pastor who had divided that church years before, and was part of the reason that church sunk into the valley of dry bones.And that Sunday that the former pastor came up to the front of the Sanctuary and asked forgiveness from the elders he had hurt. And they were reconciled.

Forgiveness. That is what we need in our lives. Our Lord says that we must forgive as we have been forgiven by him. But it is hard to forgive from our heart, sometimes impossibly so. May it be perceived slights or actual hurts. Horrible things have happened in our lives that have reshaped our world and broken our trust for God and others. Preachers have told us that unforgiveness is a prison. People have told me that.  We know its a prison. People tell us its a poison. We know it is a poison. But we rather be in prison and poison ourselves than forgive. Because how can we love those who have hurt us? Something more seems to be required. And that leads me to the question of the day.

“What does love require of me?”

Jesus tells his disciples what love requires of them in the Gospel of John. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

My first thought when I heard this question is that Jesus was commanding us to sacrifice as he sacrificed. To take up our cross, to deny ourselves as Jesus denied himself, to make some grand sacrifice, to sell everything we have to the poor, to throw away our stuff before an audience of millions. I thought that love required me to sacrifice my life for those I love as Jesus sacrificed his life for us.

But the problem with that line of thinking is Jesus’ sacrifice covered our sin because he was the perfect Son of God. Jesus saved us because he was Jesus. But we are not Jesus. Just because we sacrifice doesn’t mean it will make our relationships better. Love may lead us to sacrifice but sacrifice is not what love requires. And Jesus isn’t referring to the cross. At this point in the Gospel of John he hasn’t gone to the cross. He says love each other as I have loved you. His command is in the past tense. He is referring to something he had already done not something he was about to do.

In the previous chapter, Jesus humbles himself by washing his disciple’s dirty feet. In that day it was unthinkable that a teacher would wash the feet of his disciples. Everyone knew that was not the right way to do things. Peter protested saying that he should wash Jesus’ feet. And based on the conventions of the time he was right.

But Jesus told Peter that unless he washed Peter’s feet Peter could have no part in him.

And then Peter being literally minded said, Okay Lord then dunk me, dunk me in the dunk tank. I want whatever you got. Peter thought it was about the water. But it was a symbolic action to humble himself. We think about tiding up on the outside. But what about tiding up on the inside? Jesus didn’t ask Peter to die for him. Jesus would die for Peter. All Jesus asked was this little act of humility but it was nearly impossible for Peter to do.

Love didn’t require any magnificent act of sacrifice on Peter’s part. Love only required that Peter humble himself. Love only required that he be willing to give up being right.

What does love require of me?

Love requires that I am willing to give up being right.

I don’t know about you. But I rather call in a reality T.V show host to throw away most of my stuff before millions of people than be willing to give up being right. But when you have people in relationship who are willing to give up being right, that is a healthy marriage, that’s a healthy family, that’s a healthy government, that’s a healthy church. When we give up being right love has a way of covering over sin. When we give up being right love has a way of binding us together. Love revealing and rejoicing in the truth.

Oh I am man of unclean lips. I know how that is. Most of my life I loved being right more than I loved loving. And I loved arguing. And I held onto my hurts deep inside.  But God through his mighty power has worked a great work in me, of love, that I may be a good shepherd for you all. And I am not Jesus. I will never be Jesus. But I want to come out of my cage. Because the Spirit of the Lord is here. Jesus is here to set the captive free.  And perhaps today you find yourself in an invisible cage of bitterness and unforgiveness and just right now you are seeing it. It’s time to come out of our cage. It’s time to come out of our cage and let love win, let love carry us along, for love will rejoice in the truth, and love will make a way for each one of you today. Oh Lord, in the words of John Calvin, we give you our hearts promptly and sincerely. We lift up our hearts to you that you may set them ablaze. That we may acquire the fire.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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