When God Throws A Fireball

On October 4th of last year, I found myself in the Chengni village of Shangri-la, spending the Chinese Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival at a hostel in the Tibetan countryside. Just a couple days before, my traveling companions and I were making our way through the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge in the southern Yunnan province. After a day and a half of hiking a trail so beautiful and arduous it literally took our breath away, we were happy to rest and meet new friends at the Desti Youth Park Hostel.

 

Our hosts had organized a huge, traditional Chinese barbeque and KTV (karaoke) party in honor of this national holiday. As the only wài guó rén (foreigners) in the building, the staff was delighted when we joined the celebration. Shāokǎo (barbeque) was eaten, “Aladdin” hits were sung, and before long, everyone was headed outside to gather around a huge bonfire.

 

The Mandarin-speakers of our group followed the locals outside, but Kaile and I stayed behind to continue a spirited discussion. I hadn’t known her long, but she was quickly proving to be a great friend, blessing me with encouragement, sisterhood, and wisdom during what had become a difficult time for me. Though I had been excited to return to the field, my second year in China was not going as well as I had hoped. Unforeseen circumstances in my new life were challenging me in ways I had never known. In all honesty, the fire in my missionary heart was feeling more and more extinguished with each passing day.

 

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17

 

Twenty, thirty, maybe even forty minutes went by before we realized we were the only ones left in the common room. “We will keep talking about this,” she agreed. “But let’s go outside and join the others.”

 

We’d been outside no more than three minutes when we suddenly heard a collective gasp emerge from the crowd, all eyes pointed upward and fixed on the night sky.

 

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An enormous fireball was burning through the clouds, dazzling the sky in streams of brilliant orange and yellow light. Within ten seconds, night seemingly turned to day as the object disintegrated in a bright flash. A moment later there was a great boom as the resulting pieces struck the ground, miles outside of Shangri-la.

 

Stunned silence. Then, a unified roar of excitement and bewilderment.

 

Despite our linguistic differences, we all shouted, hugged, and cried in the mutual language of astonishment after witnessing what we could only understand to be a miracle straight from the heavens.

 

We later found out it was a meteor. It began as a larger rock, minding its own business, orbiting the sun in its own time – when it happened to slip through the earth’s atmosphere and get pulled downward so fast it caught fire and broke up into different pieces before it struck the ground. The life of a meteor is kind of sad, isn’t it? How quickly a great space rock can become a small has-been of the majestic sky. (Disclaimer: I am not a NASA scientist.) 

 

And yet, without its drifting from orbit and burning through our atmosphere, we would never be humbled, amazed, or inspired by such a spectacular show of light in darkness.

 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

 

You know something? I think our brothers and sisters in Christ are kinda like meteors. (C’mon, you knew a metaphor had to be hiding in this story somewhere, right?)

 

No, I am not likening God’s servants to lifeless rocks floating in space. And I’m certainly not going full hippy and saying that we are all made of stars.

 

I’m saying that, whether or not we make a “sonic boom” on impact, we are all sent from the same rock – THE Rock, the Lord Almighty, our fortress and our deliverer – to spread His light unto different corners of the world.

 

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

 

For some, that means packing your life into a suitcase and traveling 8,000 miles to share the love of Jesus with strangers in a strange land. For others, it might mean inviting your neighbors to church again and again, even if they always decline. Either way, God has a purpose for each and every one of us. He sends us where he wants to use us. He puts us on separate yet intersecting paths, equipped with the Holy Spirit and ready to serve as kindling in each other’s fires of faith. He doesn’t need us to spread his light, but he chooses to use us so that we may grow stronger in faith while serving the mission laid out for us.

 

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

 

And even when it feels like nothing is happening, or when it feels like nothing is happening the right way, our God is still at work. His timing is perfect. He makes things happen when they are supposed to. And sometimes, God allows us to struggle so that we may learn to trust in Him and rely on Him more. It is during this struggle, this time when we feel like we’re falling out of orbit and plummeting towards an uncertain future – it is then that He is refining us, molding and transforming and sanctifying us as we journey through this earthly life.

 

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7

 

When we are falling out of control it humbles us to the reality of how little control we have in the first place. Think of the meteors again. Once they begin to enter Earth’s atmosphere, there’s no going back for them. They have no control over where they land – but they can still be used to bring hope and light into a world of darkness. Talk about falling into God’s plan.

 

Locals claimed that our meteor broke up into three different meteorites as it plummeted towards the earth. Each landed in a different spot, waiting to be found by those hungry to learn more about the miraculous light they had just seen.

 

I believe Kaile was my meteorite during those rough months in China. Why, even when she admitted to be struggling, she was a light for Christ. She comforted me in times of distress, and she guided me back to Christ's love in times of doubt. She echoed the manner of our Savior, showing love and humility to all she met, no matter her own frustrations of being in a foreign culture. The Lord was using her to show others how to reach for his hand when falling instead of pridefully trying to control the situation.

 

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

 

I’m not sure if anyone ever found the space rocks that fell from the sky last autumn in Shangri-la. For all I know, they could have been destroyed upon impact, having become frail and breakable when separated from each other. As for his servants, however, we know that God’s word and grace only strengthens us as we are sent out into the world. After all, our God is the Creator of everything – all space, all matter, all universe. 


“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2)!

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Tools for Refining

A few Sunday mornings back, during the social shuffle between the end of the Bible Class hour and before the start of the worship service, I stood in the entryway to the sanctuary, waiting to grab a pew to share with my family members. As I dallied by the doors, a teenage girl - a newer member in our congregation - approached me. We uttered the usual, casual, “Good morning,” greetings and the, “Did you have a good week?” questions.

Then, “Hey, actually, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something.”

The following conversation with this bright and bubbly high school senior set my heart aglow. She and a fellow classmate were hoping to start a morning Bible study for other female students at their Christian high school. She sought materials, advice, ideas - anything that would help make their weekly meetings successful and beneficial.

To see the Holy Spirit work so visibly in a young woman’s heart and life was incredible. It both convicted and inspired me. There I stood, without excuse, knowing how lacking my own Bible studies often are, while also being jolted with a bursting desire to dig into the Word, so I could be a source of support for these Christian ladies.

It’s easy to assume that young people are caught up in the world and its temptations. However, how often do we become more caught up in these things as we age? How often do we skip our own personal devotions and prayer time, let alone fellowship time with our brothers and sisters? A sparking light of Christian encouragement from a girl several years younger than me, a girl young enough to be my very own student, yet close enough in age that I knew we were going through some of the same battles.

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
— I Timothy 4:12-13

For the month of September, our focus is living refined. If you look up the definition of refine in a dictionary, you’ll find descriptions such as: “to become pure”, “free from impurities”, “to become more fine, elegant, or polished.” However, if you scroll to less common definitions, you’ll find one that should resonate well with the Christian heart. Rather than simply being the definition of refine it’s actually the definition for refine on / upon.

The number eight definition on my phone app’s dictionary states the following:

Refine on / upon: to improve by inserting finer distinctions, superior elements, etc.

We can only live a life refined because a superior outside element has been inserted in our hearts. Our gracious God has made a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit in us through his Word, through our fellowship with others, and through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. To live refined is not a choice of ours but a result of God acting upon us.

My heart swelled that Sunday morning when a mature, young lady asked me a simple question and again in chit chats over coffee days later — not because this girl was an exceptional model of Christian living in action, but because the refining light of the Spirit was shining through her. How naive was I to not see the potential to walk in faith with those my junior? It’s routine to get caught up in our day-to-day living, in our own paths, in our own thoughts, and to believe that these are the undeniable truths in our lives.

What a blessing that the Spirit uses innumerable outside forces to call us to attention and polish our faith. Prayerfully, let’s lean on our fellow Christians this way. Young and old. Weak and strong. Lifelong believers and those new to the faith. Man and woman. Spiritual leaders and the everyday church member. Stay alert and seek out these outside sources of spiritual insights, encouragement, and excitement.

The Spirit is working in ways you cannot imagine.

May the Lord pour out his Spirit to refine our own hearts so that he may sharpen our faith as a blessed tool used to refine others.

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