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the fire on the altar kept burning.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law for the burnt offering: the burnt offering itself shall remain on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire on the altar is to be kept burning on it. The priest is to put on his linen robe, and he shall put on undergarments next to his flesh; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire reduces the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it. It shall not go out, but the priest shall burn wood on it every morning; and he shall lay out the burnt offering on it, and offer up in smoke the fat portions of the peace offerings on it. Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out.

– Leviticus 6:8-13 (NASB, emphasis mine)

It doesn’t take a genius to realise the key message that Moses communicated to the Levites; this was a part of their daily duties – to keep the fire on the altar burning through the day and night. It sounds simple but I reckon that it actually takes a great amount of diligence to execute this task. Think about it as you re-read it; they had to don different sets of attire for burning the offering and clearing the ash. It was probably cumbersome to follow through the detailed instructions.

The fire.

Firstly, it’s important to note that this fire first fell from heaven (Leviticus 9:24); God put the fire there Himself. This I think, represents a fire of devotion, a symbol of uninterrupted worship and an undying presence of Christ in our lives. Hence, it has to burn with heavenly fire (since it was of a heavenly source). Let’s recognise that this fire cannot be fueled by earthly means – the only way to God is through Jesus Christ. For the fire to keep burning, the priests had to keep refueling it. Again, this was a cumbersome task and I think it represents our constant need for atonement; as believers, we have to fervently persevere in offering ourselves to God as this is a perpetual fire, not a temporal one. This fire must keep going until we meet Christ.

As with any fire, I think that the priests faced three main dangers in their mission to keep the fire burning on the altar:

  1. Ashes – that’s why they had to keep clearing it… We have to keep clearing the junk out of our lives!
  2. Negligence – when they fail or forget to fuel the fire… We have to be alert when we pursue God!
  3. Apathy – when they can’t even be bothered anymore… We have to be aware of the dangers of luke-warmth!

Are you able to identify with any of the above-mentioned as you fan your own flame? For the priests, the presence of these elements would inevitably dim the fire and cause an immediate reduction of the fire’s supposed influence, intensity and interest (or relevance). Let’s avoid these pitfalls.

On the altar.

If there was a holy of holies in our physical bodies, I reckon it to be our hearts. God looks at our hearts indeed and we must remember that it burns only by God’s grace and supplication, which we should ask boldly for so that God will get all the glory. I think our hearts should be fueled by two things – scripture and time with God. I propose three necessary elements for our altar of private prayer:

  1. Regular – set it at the same time so you develop a habit of prayer.
  2. Frequent – seriously, how effective can praying annually or quarterly be?
  3. Undisturbed – get away from all distractions that compete for your attention.

We must remember that all fires are borrowed from the fire of private prayer. Again, I’ll say it – the revival of a ministry comes by the prayer of its people and not by the pursuit of its programme(s).

Kept burning.

It must have been a “holy barbecue” for the priests on duty. I can imagine them, at the commencement of their duties, being given the offering (lamb, fats, meat etc.) to be burnt.  For sure they couldn’t burn it all at one go as if they were at a Korean grill! I’m certain they had to burn it like they were preparing Chinese double-boiled soup. They had to measure the quantity of the portions, observe how it burnt and calculate the burning time; they took turns to be on “guard duty” to tend to the fire, to ensure that it kept burning the entire night and that the offering set apart for that night would last until the morning. Don’t you think that it’s actually similar to guard duty in the army? There’s no need to do guard duty in the daytime because everyone’s at work and on guard; it’s always at night that we let our guards down. Likewise, it’s easier to keep the fire going in the daytime when everyone can see, but it’s indefinitely harder to keep the flame from being extinguished at night as we’re on our own.

I find this analogy especially relevant to ministry leaders. Question is, what exactly are we burning? I think that there are three things which we normally burn:

  1. People – without people, ministry won’t exist or make sense.
  2. Ideas – without ideas, people’s effort would be wasted and misdirected.
  3. Events – without events, there’ll be no platform to execute ideas.

We must realise that we cannot burn everything at once otherwise we’d suffer a quick burn-out! The solution here is to offer a continuous offering with a spread-out intensity instead of an initial offering that overwhelms everyone – that’s our responsibility as leaders in the ministry. To be consecrated, we must establish a “slow burn” that takes place over a long time that has to be attended by leaders and pastors (priests). It’s crucial then, that ministers of Christ have the fire of their zeal constantly burning. We must remember that giving ourselves completely to God is not a “quick work” but a “slow burn”. But be careful, for sometimes we’re on the fire for too long we don’t realise we’re actually the ones burning!

It is with this passage of scripture that I felt led to start a couple of prayer initiatives because we’re simply not praying enough. Did you really think that 30 minutes of PUSH, five minutes of pre-service prayer and two hours of P&P would do the trick of ushering in revival? Far from it! From now until the end of 2011, with the right resources and people in place, I’d like to prayerfully initiate at least a quarterly 12-hour overnight prayer session, add in an annual 24-hour “Pray like Mad” prayer concert (inspired by an event of the same namesake I attended a decade ago) and invite parents to pray with youths.

Leaders – feel my heartbeat. I want to encourage you to mimic the priests. If you observe the way they lead their people spiritually, you’ll realise that there was really nothing beneath them to do; that’s right, they served their sheep with a no-matter-what and a whatever-it-takes attitude! That was their house-keeping responsibility – to ensure that their fire (and their sheep’s fire!) never burns out, but is kept burning continuously! Leaders, that is your mandate – to keep the fire of your youths continuously burning for God. Ask God to show you how!

You know, I’ve only had “Buddha Jumps Over The Wall” once in my lifetime and when I tasted it, I could almost taste the 48 hours of preparation, the expertly cut delicacies, and the freshest and most premium ingredients. It was one of my most memorable culinary experiences and I think that our prayer lives can be as gratifying and as tasty as that! Just remember to keep the fire on a “slow burn”!

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what determines the strength of our weaknesses?

In any social group – be it a cell group in church, amongst classmates, amidst extended relatives or in the company of colleagues – there always seems to be one person who is visibly weaker or slower than, or simply different from the rest. And we all know that this person’s anomaly causes him or her to stick out like a sore thumb.

I’d like to think that we’ve seen and experienced them all; we have met those who are mentally disabled, autistic, those with disorders like OCD (obsessive compulsive disorders) or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), those with poor EQ (emotional quotient) or relational skills, those that incredibly rude and intolerably inconsiderate, and finally the everyday individuals who are excessively sensitive, irritating, bossy or opinion-less, and the likes, who already struggle to fit in because they’re just different from the norm; they can’t (or struggle) to fit into the social group. As a result, when people don’t know how to deal with them, they simply shun them; those who are worse than scum scorn them. Shame on these insensitive individuals.

I was such a person.

This happened when I was in Primary school, before the saving power of Jesus Christ changed my life. There was a mentally handicapped boy in EM3 who was ostracised by everyone because he constantly went around to ask fellow students, in the strangest and most pathetic manner, “Do you want to be my friend?” As with (almost) every 11-year-old, I gave him that look of disdain and I walked away in disgust. I will never forget how low I stooped to that day and I carry that disappointment to this day.

I believe that the way we treat the least of us determines how strong we are. Already, these weaker individuals are eschewed by the world – I don’t expect many people to stop in their tracks to specially tend to or take care of them; no, most won’t even patronise them. They simply turn away in apathy – and I reckon it doesn’t even bothers them in the least bit. Our hearts have turned cold to those who are unlike us.

Like it or not, Christians, these people do exist in the church and more often than not they might just be sitting in the midst of us. How do we treat them? How do we respond to them? How do we extend love and grace to them? Sadly enough, more than half of us treat them in the same manner as the world treats them. No, unfortunately, these individuals are unable to find their city of refuge in church. Yes, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. Aren’t we supposed to be the place that accepts everyone, regardless of who they are? It’s as if having to cope with a condition isn’t hard enough on the individual – we have to worsen it. It’s easy to love those who are lovely, isn’t it? But what about those who are unlovable? We ought to take a good hard look at ourselves in how we embrace people. My heart is so heavy even as I pen down these thoughts.

I’ll make it a little more relevant to us Christians, since I assume that most of you who read my blog are of the Christian faith. I’d say it again, the way we treat the least of us determines how strong we truly are. It’s like I’m rephrasing an old adage – that you are only as strong as (how you treat) your weakest link. If I want to see how loving a cell group is, I will examine how everyone treats the slowest, weakest and most unlovable member. So I find myself telling myself that whenever I deal with a needy person, the reputation of my church (and that of Jesus Christ) is at stake. I don’t know if this is the best motivation but I’m being honest. I feel pressured to do well, not for myself, but for the faith and organisation that I represent. I had better do well, so help me God.

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