Charcoal Fires and Forgiveness

“The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards[a] from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread” (John 21:8-9, New Living Translation).

I learned something very interesting today in church. Yes, I do pay attention and take it all in (when my ADD isn’t kicking in).

Apparently, there are only two times in the entire Bible when the word translated as charcoal fire is used– this passage and the one where Peter betrays Jesus three times with his Lord within hearing distance. In fact, after the last one, Jesus looks at Peter.

I love how special pains are taken to parallel the two scenes. In one, Peter is at his weakest. You’d think that denying his Lord would be unforgivable. Maybe you’d think that Peter should just go back to fishing– the regular kind that involves fish and not people. He should give up on being a disciple.

But Jesus went out of His way to include Peter in His post-resurrection appearances. He said to get all the disciples — and Peter– together.

Peter thought he’d blown it. He was sure Jesus could never speak to him again, much less forgive him. Peter had gone back to what he knows best, fishing.

In this same chapter, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me, Peter?”

I like to think that’s one for every time Peter pretended not to know Him.

It’s not so much that Jesus needed to hear that Peter loved Him but that Peter needed to know. Peter needed to know that the forgiveness offered through the cross was for him as well as everyone else.

Peter spent the rest of his life living out his gratitude for what Jesus did for him in front of that charcoal fire. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing.


Refiner’s Fire

I can think of no better illustration of what it means to be refined under God’s hand until we start to resemble our Maker than the following:

“One day we took the children to see a goldsmith refine gold after the ancient manner of the East. He was sitting beside his little charcoal fire. (‘He shall sit as a refiner’; the gold- or silversmith never leaves his crucible once it is on the fire.)

In the red glow lay a common curved roof tile; another tile covered it like a lid. This was the crucible. In it was the medicine made of salt, tamarind fruit and burnt brick dust, and imbedded in it was the gold.

The medicine does its appointed work on the gold, ‘then the fire eats it,’ and the goldsmith lifts the gold out with a pair of tongs, lets it cool, rubs it between his fingers, and if not satisfied puts it back again in fresh medicine.

This time he blows the fire hotter than it was before, and each time he puts the gold into the crucible, the heat of the fire is increased; ‘it could not bear it so hot at first, but it can bear it now; what would have destroyed it then helps it now.’

‘How do you know when the gold is purified?’ we asked him, and he answered, ‘When I can see my face in it [the liquid gold in the crucible] then it is pure’” (Amy Carmichael, Gold Cord).

When God sees His face in us, then we shall be pure.

“Like a refiner of silver,
    He will purify the descendants of Levi—
Until they are pure, unalloyed gold and silver.
    Then they will draw near to the Eternal One,
Presenting offerings with righteous, clean hands” (Malachi 3:3, The Voice)


My Secret Christmas Room


For those of you who have lots of money, I just thought of a way to help you spend it. I mean besides buying me stuff like Red Mini Coopers and Mac Book Pros.

I think it would be super-duper neat to have a secret room in your really big house. One of those that you get to by turning a book in the bookcase or pulling a hidden lever located behind the family portrait.

But not just a secret room. It would be a secret Christmas room, all decorated with a Christmas tree and a fire burning in the fireplace and Christmas music playing from hidden speakers in the ceiling.

Some days you just need a little Christmas. Even in the middle of July. After a hard day at work, how nice would it be to be able to spend a little time in your Christmas room, lit only by the fireplace fire and with strains of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas wafting in the air.

That’s what I’d do if I suddenly came into a lot of money. I could save all the trouble of packing up all the Christmas decorations and just move them all to this little room. And you’d be welcome to come over and visit my little secret Christmas room whenever you were needing a bit of the yuletide spirit.

Just let me know in advance when you’re coming over.


4 Years Later


A friend’s post reminded me that it’s been 4 years since the floods hit Nashville. If my memory serves, it was May 1-2 of 2010. Then again, my memory does tend to double-fault a lot these days [insert rim shot here].

I remember not being able to get to work because of flooded streets.

I remember seeing one of those big trailer school rooms floating down the interstate.

I remember hearing about people who had to be rescued from their cars and homes and who lost their possessions and homes due to flood waters.

It doesn’t seem like 4 years. In some ways it seems like yesterday and in some ways it seems like 20 years ago. If that made sense, then we probably share a brain.

I remember an inscription on the garage door in a neighborhood I was helping to clean out. It said, “Storms End, Love Shines, We Survive.” Or something like that.

And here we are, 4 years after the storm ended. Nashville is still standing. In fact, in many ways the city is better and bigger and stronger than it was then. Not to mention too many restaurants to keep up with.

It didn’t seem like that would be the case back then. There have been times in my own life when it didn’t seem like things would ever get back to being good again. I’m sure you’ve felt that way.

But somehow things get better. God has a way of taking the crap in your life and working it into something much better. Like maybe a garden. Or a new beginning.

The prophet Isaiah nailed it when he wrote: “When you face stormy seas I will be there with you with endurance and calmyou will not be engulfed in raging rivers. If it seems like you’re walking through fire with flames licking at your limbs, keep going; you won’t be burned.
Because I, the Eternal One, am your God. I am the Holy One of Israel, and I will save you” (Isaiah 43:2-3).

Whether it’s flood, fire, or difficult circumstances, your saving God is there. Remember that.


Fire Bad, Tree Pretty, Me Sleepy


After working 23 hours in two days and having two nights of sleep where I feel like I woke up every 30 minutes, I am bone tired. Like to the point where I’m not exactly functioning on a higher brain level. Mostly my brain tells me to go to bed.

I’m hoping for a better night of sleep than the last two nights. I had weird dreams and like I said earlier, I woke up like clockwork, not because I wanted to or because I was so worried about anything. I just did. Rude.

But I wanted to tell you before I do call it a night that I’m thankful for you reading this and all my other blogs. It really does mean a lot to me that you take time out of your crazy schedules and choose my posts out of all the posts in the world to read.

So thank you.

Fire bad, tree pretty, me go sleep now.

And when I am afraid . . .

We talked  about Elijah tonight at Kairos Roots. Here is a man who was just like any of us. He prayed and it did not rain for 3 1/2 years. He prayed again and it rained. He went up against all the prophets of Baal and prayed down the fire of God not only on his sacrifice, but theirs as well. Yet when a woman named Jezebel threatened him, he ran for his life.

“Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:3-4).

It’s funny what will make us afraid. Even after an awesome spiritual conquest like Elijah experienced over the prophets of Baal, he let one person rule his life with fear. When I have seen God show up and move mightily, why is it that I am so very prone to fear a day or two later? Why am I so forgetful of all He’s done when a little thing comes up that I don’t think He can handle?

God asks a very important question to Elijah, “What are you doing here?” The question is not for God to gain information, but for Elijah to admit to God what God already knows. Elijah never directly answers the question. He says to the effect, “I am the only one left. There is no one on my side, no one who understands.” That is one of the great lies, that we are alone in what we face and that no one else will understand. God always has a remnant He has kept for Himself.

God provides Elijah three things: 1) something to eat, 2) something to drink, and 3) a friend. He sent someone who could speak into Elijah’s fear with understanding and compassion. When we are facing our fears, God will always send friends to walk with us through our trial.

Then Elijah waits in the cave for God to speak. God speaks not in the great strong wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the sound of a low whisper, or “The Sound of Silence”, to borrow an old Simon and Garfunkel song title. It reminds me of when Tracy Chapman sang, “Don’t you know talkin’ bout a revolution sounds like a whisper?” We should not expect God to speak to us like He has in the past, because God almost never speaks to a person the same way twice. In a culture that prizes noise and speed, we have to be silent and still. Where the motto of the majority is to “live loud and live fast”, we have to slow down, to stop even, and to be quiet and listen.

In the Old Testament, God often reminded His people of their slavery in Egypt. Not to shame them, but to remind them of this. In the midst of your bondage, God showed up and instead of miraculously delivering you instantly from it, walked with You through it so you would never have to fear it again. God gives us the ability to endure in tough times, which leads us to character growth, which leads to hope. And hope does not disappoint.

I have two questions from God for you. The first is, “If I has been faithful to you and blessed you all these years, what makes you think I will stop now?” That leads to the second question from God: “Will you trust Me for the next 24 hours?” Not a year or a month or even a week. 24 hours. God will not fail to keep His promises toward you. And remember, the purpose of everything that happens to you is to conform you into the image of Christ. Not your happiness or contentment, but joy and holiness.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.