Privacy is not that important when you sleep in a trailer or RV, but in tents with paper-thin walls it makes a difference. Our new sites were smack dab in the middle of the campground and so small and close together that I could hear Lucas snoring in his tent next site over. In fact one night, he and Keith were snoring in rhythm, and the night after Lucas started a snore on the inhale and Keith finished it on the exhale, perfectly synchronized. Yet when the controlled burn passed the campground we were glad we had moved. Even with the wind blowing in the opposite direction, the ash would have fallen on our equipment and melted holes in it.
We also learned a lot about controlled burns. There are two reasons for controlled burns. When the underbrush is allowed to spread unchecked, all that extra fuel makes wildfires more destructive. Also, in a pine forest, the controlled burns keep the hardwoods from taking over. The day after the burn every small hardwood was smoking and burned to a crisp while the pines stood tall and strong, if a little charred on the bottom.
As Christians we must experience times exactly like these controlled burns. Perhaps the most difficult “burns” to understand are the problems among God’s people. If the church is the body of Christ, why do people behave badly? Why do divisions happen and heresies lead people astray? The Proverb writer tells us that God will use the wicked, whether they want to be used or not, Prov 16:4. Paul says in 1 Cor 11:19, For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.
The question is not will there be problems in the church? The question is, when there are problems will we be able to “recognize” those who are not genuine believers? I fear that too many of us look to the wrong things.
Do I believe one side because they are my friends, never even questioning their words, while automatically dismissing the other if among them is a brother I don’t like too much? Does “family” make the decision for me? Am I relying on how I “feel” about it, instead of what the Word actually says? Does it matter more to me who can quote the Big-Name Preachers instead of the scriptures? Is one side more popular than the other? Will it give me more power if that side wins the fight? When I rely on those types of things, I am the one who is showing myself to be a less than genuine believer.
While these things are necessary, it doesn’t mean God likes them, any more than he liked the Assyrians who fulfilled their purpose in punishing his wayward people.
Ho Assyrian, the rod of my anger, the staff in whose hand is my indignation! I will send him against a profane nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he means not so, neither does his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few... Wherefore it shall come to pass, that, when the Lord has performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks, Isa 10:5-6,12.
Jesus presents a similar viewpoint when he says in Matt 18:7, Woe unto the world because of occasions of stumbling! For it must needs be that the occasions come; but woe to that man through whom the occasion comes! These things have their place and their purpose, but God will punish the ones responsible.
Now the hard part: The apostles did not tell the early church that it was understandable to become discouraged and leave because their idea of the blissful, perfect institution was often marred by sin. They said to use that experience to double check where we stand, to make sure we are among the true believers, the tall pines that withstand the blaze instead of the scrub brush and interloping hardwoods who try to destroy Christ’s body.
Those controlled burns in the pine forests happen every three years. Who knows how often the church needs cleansing but God himself? For me to give up on the Lord and his body because someone causes trouble, because peace among God’s people sometimes seems hard to come by, means I am giving up on God, failing to trust that he knows best. You may get a little singed, but it is cleansing burn, far better than the eternal burn that awaits the factious.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit…Therefore by their fruits you shall know them, Matt 7:15-17, 20.