Why do flames go out?

This article is going to be very out of character for what I usually do here. Its going to be somewhat raw and emotional, I already know that before I even type the words. It will anger some, perhaps offend others, but it is what is on my heart.  It was prompted by an accident. I was working on an article on chameleons which you will all get to read eventually. I happened to check in on social media during the process and saw an update from a friend from college who I hadn’t seen much from in a while. That update broke the dam of a lot of thoughts I’ve been ruminating over for some time. This article is an expression of those thoughts.

As background let me explain that the update itself was not what triggered this. Just seeing this man’s face reminded me of what he was and what he has become. This was a young man who, in college, was on fire for God. He was deeply involved in the ministry, had a fire and a passion to serve God. He and I and several dozen others helped start a student-led prayer group at my college my freshman and sophomore years. But after college something changed in him.  He no longer had the same fire, the same passion to serve God. While I know many go through periods like that, to the best of my knowledge he is not even in church today, a young man who had dedicated his life to preach.  What happened?

I’m sure every pastor could tell stories just like the one above. A young person or even older person in their church is on fire for God for a time, then falls away and, sometimes, never comes back. Why? Many Christians are quick to judge and claim the fallen were never really saved to begin with. That is God’s to judge, not ours, and to do so ignores the clear teaching of Scripture. So why do so many red hot fires go cold?

The answer lies in a lot of places, that changes with the individual. In the case of my friend, I don’t know what changed him. Maybe he made poor choices in friends and was lead astray that way. Maybe he simply chose to reject God. Maybe he had no root in himself as Jesus talks about in the parable of the sower, and gave up when trials came. I don’t know. But the aforementioned parable of the sower gives us a place to start.

Jesus tells the parable of the sower in Luke eight. He tells it to the multitude in verses five through eight. In verse nine the disciples ask what it means. He then explains it, beginning in verse eleven.

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.

The first group are the seeds that fall by the wayside.  These are people to whom the Gospel is given but who reject and ignore it. Noted atheist Stephen Hawking who recently passed away was likely an example of this group, as his wife was a Christian. There might be those that argue some do not receive the Gospel but God disagrees in Romans 1:20 “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” The existence of God is hardwired into Creation. The seed by the wayside may sit in the pew, but they will never be on fire for God because they never knew Him.

The second group is that which is founded on a rock. These folks do get saved and catch fire for God for a time. However, because there are things that they want more than a relationship with God, desires of the flesh, eventually they fall away. Their flame has a short wick.

The third group is that which lands among the thorns. This group essentially landed among the weeds. Anyone who has ever gardened knows weeds grow faster than desirable flowers and plants. Left unchecked, they will outcompete the desirable plants and choke them out. That’s exactly what happens to these folks. They catch fire for God, but other things in their life, the cares of this world, family, friends, events or a job become more important to them than God and their fire goes out from lack of oxygen. These folks slowly snuff out.

Only the last group brings forth fruit. The question is why? What makes a person good ground for the Gospel and keeps the fire burning once the seed has sprung up? Think about what makes good garden soil. It needs fertilizer.  Fertilizer is good sound Bible teaching.  It needs a lot of hard work to til and weed it, to keep it free from contamination. The weeding belongs to the individual, but the tilling belongs to the pastor and others. The weeding is the daily battle each Christian fights against sin. The longer that battle is neglected, the harder it is to regain control of the garden.  The tilling comes from those who pray for others and the pastors teaching and preaching.  Prayer softens hearts and makes the ground ready for the Gospel seed. Preaching and teaching keeps the ground turned over and useful for the roots of the plant.

So where did we go wrong? Why do so many red hot lights burn out? The answer lies both behind the pulpit and in the pew.  Pastors have openly accepted heresies, false doctrines, and the foolishness of this world and brought it into their sanctuaries, some by neglect, others willfully. The false teaching and the watering down of Christianity to show the world how accepting we are is a wicked delusion. Christianity was never meant as a salve to the world. Christians were meant to be salt , reminding the world just how much different we are from them. Promoting the worlds methods, the worlds ideas, such as millions of years of evolution among countless other lies has removed any difference between us and the world. This has quenched many flames as, while passionate about serving God, they are grounded on lies. Eventually the foundation gives out and the structure falls.

The fault is not just pastors. Pew sitting Christians are equally to blame.  By not searching the Scriptures for themselves, they swallow the lies the world feeds them wholesale. By not taking time to pray for their fellow believers, they essentially kick their brothers feet out from under him as the enemy attacks. By focusing on this world and the things therein, they make no attempt to serve God or win others to Him. I in no way absolve myself. I have been guilty of the same. The tendency of Christians to kick strugglers to the curb rather than helping them rise has quenched many flames as well. Many a passionate Christian has been ridiculed for asking an honest, well meaning question, or ignored for the same, and been pushed from the faith.

So how do we solve this problem? God provides the solution for renegade pastors. Leave. Yes it really is that simple. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14 says.  If every true Christian left their renegade church, many false teachers would be out of a job.  The solution to the pewsitter starts with a look inward. When was the last time you/I prayed for someone we knew was struggling? When was the last time we prayed at all except over lunch? When was the last time we opened the Word when something didn’t quite pass the smell test? Come to think of it, when was the last time we opened the Word at all? We cannot lament all the problems in our churches then offer no solution. However, most Christians are content to complain about the fires going out, without ever considering that keeping the fires lit was part of their responsibility.

In closing, I want to share a personal story that illustrates the point better than over sixteen hundred words could. Several years ago I read a book which really challenged the way I believed and what I had been taught. I was shaken to the core. I didn’t share this with many people, but I brought up topics in conversations with people I respected hoping to get reassurance. Thankfully my friends and family provided the support I needed to stay on the straight and narrow else I might have been my friend.  I’ve never forgotten that because of what could have been had a made a different choice. I believe I made the right choice because I had people praying for me. But how many have made the wrong choice because no one prayed for them?



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