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Through the Fire

Brian Miller is back again with another insightful message using a scriptural lesson God has proven Himself faithful in time and time again. May you be encouraged through this blog and seek out His Word to find spiritual nuggets that carry you through as Brian has.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following is a lightly-edited column I wrote for Hometown Focus, a community-oriented weekly in Virginia, MN, I was privileged to be a part of from the start when it was just an idea some 15 years ago. This article appeared almost two years ago, and though it addressed issues of that time, it reads like it could be written about today, and hopefully, you will be encouraged by its message.
These were the inspired words of the prophet Isaiah (43:2) some six centuries or so before the birth of the Promised One, of whom they were written.
I’m here to tell you that these words are not only of great comfort to me, and not only have I found them to be true in their entirety, but also that it is only because of such grace and mercy that I am here to share these words.
To quote the Master in Mark 8:36-37:

What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his own soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

The answer to those rhetorical questions is, of course: Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
But the lust for power is a malevolent one. Stepping down to a far-lesser Lord named Acton: “Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
So is the lust for pleasure. I myself was nearly consumed in my quest for “having fun.” But seeking pleasure proved empty and ultimately meaningless, and too much was never enough. It dissolved any pursuit of anything lasting and led to destruction, to dread the lonesome night and no thought of tomorrow.

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. For you are just a vapor that appears for a little while, and then vanishes away

Those words were written by James (4:14), the next-youngest brother of the Messiah, who, like the rest of his brothers, was an unconvinced skeptic during their older brother’s lifetime. But, as even modern-day skeptics agree, something happened to James after the Crucifixion. Something happened to Peter, who denied he “knew the man” put on trial in the middle of the night. Something happened to the man who, not unfairly, earned the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” Something happened to Paul, the one who wrote the words above in I Timothy and much of the New Testament. He was formerly Saul of Tarsus, a zealous persecutor of the new Christian sect which had sprung up in Jerusalem. If the Resurrection claims were untrue, it should have been easy to quash there. But the early church was not quashed―it spread like wildfire, thanks to the preaching of the eyewitnesses of His majesty.
They all went to their deaths proclaiming that Jesus was alive and had conquered death. Men don’t willingly go to their deaths for a lie. Men do tell lies for money, power, prestige, and pleasure.
Transformed lives ought to tell us something. They are a powerful testimony to hope in something greater; Someone greater. Someone worth living and dying for. They are a testimony to the power of perfect, sacrificial love.
The Sacrifice of Isaac
I find it compelling that the first mention in Scripture of love comes in Genesis 22 when God, as a test of faith, asks Abraham to sacrifice “his son, his only son Isaac.” How it must have grieved the patriarch, but he obeyed without question because he believed the promises he had been given, that through Isaac he would come the Promised One. The first love is that of a father for his only son and his deep anguish for being responsible for his death. Isaac, for his part, could have resisted but was obedient to his father to the death, which, of course, didn’t happen because God stopped Abraham at the last instant and provided a ram in Isaac’s place. Indeed, it is a picture of the ultimate sacrifice to come centuries later.
The first mention of love in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), which complement each other, all are the same: God the Father, proclaiming from heaven, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” And then we come to the Gospel of John, where the first mention of love is in chapter 3, verse 16:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.

That expression of love is the greatest gift this lost race has ever known. It’s undoubtedly the greatest I have ever known, for The Good Shepherd rescued this lost sheep and promises to do the same for all who call on Him.
If we’re not in the midst of the deep waters, we are definitely in the midst of trial by fire, and many are afraid of what the future may hold.
On July 16, 2021, another fire struck unexpectedly, burning to ashes the historic main hall at Camp Sigel on Lake Eshquaguma (near Biwabik, MN) in barely an hour. A local police chief and friend on the scene called it “the hottest fire I’ve ever seen.”
I grew up going to camp there, and for so many, that building held fond memories. Not a little miraculously, just two weeks later, we were able to host two weeks of camp there with a tent erected over the site of the hall. I was privileged to share with the teen campers during the second week a poem I wrote called “Beauty from Ashes” and the story of a life transformed by sacrificial love. (Click HERE to read this poem and the earlier blog based on it.)
Incidentally, in that blaze, one thing survived: a few pages from an old hymnal, and in those were these lines:

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned."

Isn't that just like our Savior? No matter what you are going through, child of God, you can count on His Word―just like His character―to be faithful and true. He will always be with you; He does not change; and He will use your hardships to produce godly character and hope.

Hebrews 13:5
For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

Hebrews 13:8
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Romans 5:3-4
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.

The new main lodge for Camp Sigel stands today as a testament of God's faithfulness and hope when all seems lost. He is the one true God Who can and will provide beauty to replace the ashes (Isaiah 61:3).
The New Main Lodge
The New Main Lodge!
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The camp speaker that year was R for H’s Juan Valdes. Last year, it was Carl Kerby in the partially-finished new main lodge. This year, praise Jesus, the lodge is beautifully finished in time for summer Bible camps. Next week, we begin our two weeks of Bible camp. My wife is in charge of the kitchen. We’d appreciate your prayers for God to send us campers, for open hearts to the Gospel, and for special grace for the staff and speakers.
Author Bio:
Brian Miller is a longtime newspaper columnist and freelance writer. He and his wife Bethany, a fellow “preacher’s kid” (and talented musician and chef), split their time between Eveleth, MN, and South Padre Island, TX. Brian seeks to use lessons learned in his life of God’s unchanging love, grace, mercy, and faithfulness to bring hope to others who may be struggling. The Millers are working towards setting up an as-yet-unnamed non-profit and appreciate your prayers. You may write to Brian at bd1976@pm.me.

 

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