In the early days of February 2019, passengers aboard trains passing through Chicago witnessed an alarming sight. There’s a good chance they saw the rails of their train on fire. Yes, on fire!
A Safe Fire
Midwestern cities, like Chicago, endured temperatures of minus-thirty and lower in late January-early February. As a result, rail workers have had to resort to some drastic measures to keep the trains moving. They’ve had to use fire.
The railroads experienced two major problems during super-cold temperatures. One was that that the switch points on the lines are getting clogged with snow and ice. These jammed switches brought the trains to a screeching halt.
A potentially more dangerous problem results when very cold weather causes the steel rails to contract. This will cause “pull aparts” where the rails normally connect. These gaps in the rail can become so great that derailments are a danger.
A Dangerous Looking Solution
So how did rail workers deal with these problems? They coated the steel rails with kerosene and set them on fire. The fire melted away the ice and snow from the switch points. It also heated the steel rails so that they expand and close the gaps. But it was a little scary to witness. Seeing all those rails aflame made it appear like all hell had broken loose, as though a bomb had just exploded. Passengers needed to remind themselves that the fire was not destructive. It was life-saving.
When I read about these drastic methods to keep trains moving, I thought about something in the Bible. In the Book of Acts, chapter 8, we read of a calamity that befell the early church. The church in Jerusalem suffered terrible persecution. One of the church’s most powerful witnesses, Stephen, was stoned to death. A man named Saul of Tarsus began hauling Christians into prison and tortured them to force them to deny the Lord. The war against the church was so fierce that most believers fled Jerusalem.
Trials and Tribulations
If we were in Jerusalem at the time, we’d wonder if all hell had broken loose. The church had been doing so well. True, some grumbling arose among the Greek-speaking believers because they weren’t getting equal treatment with the hometown believers. Then some hypocrisy took root in the church with Ananias and Saphira. Otherwise, the church seemed to be functioning well. Why, then, did God allow it to undergo such fiery trials.
Actually, the grumbling, hypocrisy, and coziness of the church were not healthy signs. The church had a world to evangelize. But instead, it remained clustered together in one place, awaiting the Lord’s return. So God applied a little fire to the problem—to get the church moving. As a result of the fiery persecutions, the believers were scattered everywhere. And wherever they went, they began preaching the gospel. The net effect of the persecution was that the church rapidly grew and spread to all the Roman world.
A Growing Fire
Now consider the steady stream of opposition we face from our popular culture, the media, and from many politicians in Washington. It’s all very distressing, isn’t it? But could it be that God is allowing this hostility to fire up the church and motivate it to fulfill its mission? I suspect that, instead of slowing the church down, the fires of persecution will get the gospel train moving again.
In contrast, what would happen to the church if all its political choices were elected to office? What would be the outcome if our popular culture and the media began to sing our praises? What would happen to the church if America became so Christian-friendly that it would be hard to tell sinner from saint? I suspect that the cold weather of complacency would contract the hearts of God’s people and bring about derailments to the gospel mission.
Firstly, we need the fire that God sends us. Then we need a sense of urgency to drive us to prayer and evangelism. Thirdly, we need to be reminded that this world is not our home and our true citizenship is in heaven. Lastly, we need to do all we can to prepare for Christ’s judgment seat (2 Corinthians 5:9–10).
Dear Father in heaven, please revive the hearts of Your people and motivate us to pray and to get busy serving You. Open our eyes to the urgency of the hour and to the great spiritual conflict that rages about us. Please, dear Father, get us focused on Jesus Christ and prepare us to stand before Him at His judgment seat. Amen.