January 4, 2009
Fanning the Flame
2 Timothy 1:3-7

A few years ago on a cold winter day in February I traveled to a retreat spot really looking forward to a time of renewal and refreshment. When I arrived at just the cutest little farm cottage, the fire in the woodstove was burning brightly and the warmth filled the entire space. I could already tell that I would really enjoy my stay just from the warm welcome that emanated from the living room.

Lying on a ledge near the stove were detailed instructions on how to tend the fire. To make sure it doesn’t go out, follow these steps. When you leave the cottage for any reason, do this. When you retire for the night, be sure to take care of the stove like this. When you need more wood, this is where you will find it. And by the way, don’t let the fire go out so that the next person will have a warm cottage when they arrive. Now I really thought I was going on retreat!! It hadn’t occurred to me that I was going to have to work.

I must hasten to admit that I hadn’t tended a fire for a number of years. At first, the stove was warm and inviting and novel. I soon found a good book, put on some great relaxing music and found a comfy chair right in front of the woodstove. However, before long it began to sink in that I had an ongoing responsibility to look after the fire in the stove. It wasn’t as simple as adjusting the thermostat on the wall up or down. After a few more hours, I realized it wasn’t quite as warm as it had been and I decided I’d better soon re-learn how to manage my new responsibility of tending the fire if I didn’t want to spend my next few days frustrated or very cold.

I found out that if I would pay attention to putting on the right sized piece of wood, it would last quite a while. And if I opened and closed the draft at the right time which would fan the flame just right, and then stoked the fire occasionally, I actually would do pretty well.

By afternoon, when I was ready to go for a walk, I had to figure out how long I would be gone, how to tend the fire before I left so that, on one hand, I wouldn’t generate a roaring fire in the first hour, (for I sure didn’t want to burn down the cottage), and on the other hand, if it was too sluggish and smoldering, there would be plenty of smoke and the fire might go out. Then would I be able to get it restarted? Well, I was more than a little concerned. I walked outside at one point and looked up at the chimney to decide if there was the right amount of smoke coming out. As I recall, during those days, thankfully, the fire in the stove never went out.

However, I have been back to that cottage other times since then and I haven’t been quite as obsessed about the fire nor as diligent as I was that first time. I now take more for granted. One day a year or so later, I arrived and the fire was completely out. I worked hard to get it restarted. After a few tries, I fanned the smoldering little flame until it finally caught on, actually becoming a blazing, warm fire. I felt a real sense of accomplishment.

I have never been a girl scout and I must admit a thermostat on the wall is still the most handy and enjoyable way to get warm and stay warm. However, with this little fire-making exercise, I have been reminded again about the importance of tending a fire. It takes patience, diligence, and watchfulness.

My life as a follower of Christ is somewhat similar. It also needs careful, diligent tending much like the stove in that little cottage. First becoming a Christian ignited a fire within. It burned brightly for a long while. I was passionate about serving Christ and telling others about what Christ did for me. There was much joy and fulfillment in this new life. And then perhaps you, like me, over time, found that the flame of desire for Christ’s presence was not as hot as it once was. The blaze died down; the passion for his work in my life seemed to have cooled. Maybe even now you wonder if there is anything burning there. Oh, yes, you know in your head that Christ loves you, that he has forgiven your sins and that you have an eternal hope for the next life, but the desire to follow Him with zeal is not as intense as you wish it were. You wonder if it is possible to get that fervor back again.

As a young woman right out of college, I had huge amounts of passion to serve Christ. I was eager to experience all that God had in mind for me. And I hoped the church I attended would guide me to become a dynamic and effective believer. I also wanted to be involved and I was eager to change the world. There were so many places that were in need of willing workers, it was hard to pick where to go. Can you identify with this kind of early passion? Or possibly even now you might say this is something you wish for and long for? What happened? When did it change? When did the fire go out?

You might reflect on the hard knocks in life…such as a major move, a job layoff, a failed marriage, a chronically sick child, or perhaps a conflict with a boss or an in-law. It became easy to wonder, “Does being a Christian really make a difference in the midst of a difficult situation?” And what does God think about what’s happening? Is he paying attention? Does he really know what I am going through? If he does, why doesn’t he act.

Not only do we face disappointment and frustration, but in the midst of these dilemmas, questions about the Christian faith and about church begin to surface. After all, you might think, the Christian education I’ve received and the theological understandings the church has provided, if it really made a difference, why has the passion and fire for my life in Christ begun to wane? It sounds like a fading fire in a cottage stove.

The Apostle Paul seems to have recognized some similar responses in his beloved Timothy, a young man he earlier had mentored in the faith. So he wrote him some letters. As Paul sat in prison, he pondered all this and sensed Timothy needed some reminders and encouragement. He says this in his letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:3-7).
I am grateful to God
whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did – when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands, for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Sitting there in the prison cell, he remembers the depth of their relationship. It was so deep and so moving that Timothy had shed tears when they parted their last time together. Paul longs to see him again. Paul hopes that just these reminders of their past meaningful relationship would rekindle these feelings all over again.

Who is the person that made a lasting impression on you as a young Christian? Pause for a moment and reflect on that. Was it a Sunday School teacher? A college professor? A co-worker? Give thanks to God for the influence of that person, even though it may have happened ten years or 50 years ago. Just the thoughts of that relationship can rekindle a fire in you as it ignites sparks of gratitude and thankfulness to God. Isn’t it amazing how the influence or the advice of one person can help to change the course of another individual’s life. Consider getting in touch with that person again and saying thanks. It will in all likelihood make their day. It may rekindle a fire within them as well.

Paul also remembers Timothy’s family. He had a godly mother and grandmother. Not all of us here have had that privilege. I hurt for each person who has had a difficult childhood. Paul knew it was important to remind Timothy and he said, “Remember the wonderful contribution made by your family and the heritage you have received.” Don’t forget your roots! And that’s a good word for all of us here. Who in your family ignited the flame in your life?

Just this past Sunday, I was unexpectedly blessed when someone from our congregation found a clipping and placed it in my mailbox from a newspaper printed 58 years ago. It featured the 50th wedding anniversary of my grandparents in 1950. They had been married in 1900. It mentioned in the article about how respected they were in the community and their long affiliation with the Brethren in Christ Church. It made me stop and thank God again for the influence of my grandparents and also my parents. My grandparents encountered tough times during their marriage. I heard them tell a number of stories about the Great Depression as I was growing up. Yet they trusted Christ and provided a wonderful role model for their family. Just receiving this reminder and reading again about my wonderful heritage fanned a flame within me. Thanks Edie Asbury.

Next spring we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Grantham Church. Names such as Smith, Hess, Hostetter, Minter and Keefer, to name a few, were an outstanding part of the heritage of the Grantham Church. Their passion for the congregation and this community were evident. None was more profound than Danny Keefer.

As a young adult attending the Grantham Church and frequently visiting Keefer’s IGA up here on the hill, I yet remember the friendly, smiling “hello” from Danny Keefer. His whole face lit up when he greeted customers who walked in the door and started along the first aisle of the grocery store. As was often Danny’s practice, he would put his hand on your shoulder gently, say he had something to give you, disappear behind the meat counter, and appear with a Living Bible, like this one. He was known to have dozens of Bibles that he distributed liberally in the store to anyone that he thought might benefit. He was not only generous with Bibles but often helped out a student who didn’t have much money or food, or a young mother who couldn’t pay for her groceries. His passion for Christ and for people was obvious. Just reflecting on his influence inspires me to be that kind of contagious Christian. I want the flame of Christ’s love to burn brighter in our community just thinking about the wonderful example of Danny Keefer.

Paul also reminds Timothy of his sincere faith. In an earlier letter to him, he called Timothy a loyal child in the faith and he encouraged him to fight the good fight of faith, taking hold of the eternal life to which he was called. Paul says in verse 5, “Timothy, I know there is no lapse in your faith.” Even during difficult times, even when you have had to deal with difficult situations and false teachers in the church, God was with you. Adversity might make it feel like the fire is going out. Amazingly, adversity can somehow make the blaze burn even brighter.

One of the ways my life has been enriched over the last year and a half since becoming Elvin’s wife is the opportunity to be a step-mom to his two children, the ones he spoke about and introduced you to in last Sunday’s service. Many of you already know that Lori, Elvin’s daughter, who is 42 years old, has had a return of the colon cancer which first invaded her body when she was 34 years old. Over this past Christmas holiday, everyone in both of our families has been impressed and has commented about how much she inspires us with her faith and trust in God, in the midst of her treatments, in the midst of extreme adversity and her uncertain future. This evidence of God’s faithfulness from Lori is re-kindling a fire in all of us. We can, if we choose, allow difficulties to fan the flame, causing it to burn even brighter.

Paul’s concern for Timothy culminates in verse 6. He says, “Re-kindle the gift of God which is in you.” NIV says “fan into flames.” Another translation says “stir up or keep alive.” As one author says, “it seems to presuppose there has been a lessening of Timothy’s effectiveness for whatever reason.” Timothy may have been timid or cowardly. He may have just needed gentle reminders or new encouragement. Whatever the reason, Paul felt it important to remind Timothy to rekindle the waning fire – to fan into flames the gift that God had given to him when Paul had earlier laid his hands on Timothy. Paul reminds him to keep that gift alive. Do you remember when God first laid his hands on you? When were you first aware that God was kindling a fire within you to serve Him? No matter what may have transpired since then, no matter what the challenge or adversity, God desires to revitalize and renew us.

Here at the Grantham Church, as a body of believers, I believe God is inviting us as a congregation to fan into flames and to rekindle again the gifts he has given us for effective ministry. Over time it’s easy for the blaze to die down even within a group of people and for the fire to need re-kindling. That’s not surprising. A fire by its very nature isn’t static. It is ever changing. It needs tending. And so do each of us. We are all in need of times of renewal.

Over the past few months, that’s what we are concerned about here at Grantham Church. Through the statements we’ve heard from Pastor Terry, through the open forum on one Sunday morning, through small group discussions that are continuing, we are inviting the Holy Spirit to speak to us in new and fresh ways, to re-kindle our passion for Christ, for our church, and for our local community.

When the Holy Spirit came upon the first church in the book of Acts, they witnessed an unusual manifestation of God’s glory in the form of fire. And they were never the same. It ignited a fire within them. When we come face to face with the glory of God, he sets us ablaze in brand new ways. Where there were once dying embers, he sparks new life and gives us passion to not only live a Christ-like life but he speaks to us about reaching out to others in our sphere of influence – wherever that might be. Your area of influence is different than mine – the important thing is that we listen to what God is asking us to do.

Last Sunday I was touched, along with I suspect many of you, as we heard how Ted Long responded to God’s call to stop by someone’s home that he had passed a number of times. That story fanned a flame in me. It challenged and convicted me. For I, just like Ted, have gone by someone’s home for several months and God had been asking me to stop. Since Sunday, I decided I will act. I will listen. So I did just that on Tuesday evening of this past week. What a blessing it turned out to be. I may have delivered a loaf of bread – but I received far more as I learned to know a brand new family in our community. And more important, I listened to what God was impressing on me. That re-kindled my fire.

When we listen to the voice of God, and then when we, in turn, are willing to share that with our brothers and sisters, it restores our passion in ways we cannot imagine. Then through our shared stories, it fans the flame within others in our church family and inspires others to step out of their comfort zone and be available for God to use. In this situation it was Ted who inspired me. Thanks, Ted.

Are you longing to be restored? What’s really been going on between you and God? Do you sense that the fire or passion you once had for God has seemed to subside to a flicker? You wonder – what has dampened that intimacy? Maybe it’s your current circumstances. Maybe it’s a busy schedule. Or could it be the fast pace of family life? There could be lots of reasons. One thing you do recognize. You wish it were different. You wish the fire or the passion in your soul could be re-ignited. The good news is that Christ is waiting to fill that longing in everyone this morning.

It is our privilege to come to God and courageously say, “I need your Holy Spirit to re-kindle life in me. Restore my intimacy with you, God. Fan the flame of your love within me so I can blaze with your love to others.” We can also pray the same for our church – inviting Christ to infuse our congregation with new love and passion for Him, for each other, and for our community. I invite us to ask boldly as we pray together.