The Fire Triangle
If you look at your announcement sheet you’ll see the fire triangle. Has anyone see this before?
Well, for those of you who don’t know about the fire triangle, here’s a science and safety lesson for a few minutes…you’re getting a bargain this morning: 2 for 1.
[Show fire triangle]
So, the fire triangle is a graphical illustration to show how to be aware of how fires start and how to prevent fires or extinguish them. So after this morning, you might be a little bit safer when it comes to fire.
The fire triangle has 3 different parts to it…Fuel, oxygen and heat.
And you need all three of these to start a fire. 2 of them isn’t enough - you need all three.
So, if you have wood and oxygen, you don’t get any fire unless you apply heat to the wood and, if enough heat is added then a fire will start and the fire will continue as long as there is fuel to burn - in other words, until the wood is all burned up.
Or if you have a load of wood and heat, but it’s contained in a glass box filled with carbon dioxide gas, then you won’t get a fire. And no amount of heat will make any difference, because fire is actually the visible heat that comes from a chemical reaction when the fuel reacts with oxygen.
There is a chemical reaction that happens between the fuel and the oxygen and it is that reaction that produces the flame. So if there’s no oxygen to react with the fuel, no matter how much heat, there’ll be no fire.
And, as you know, once you start the fire, the reaction keeps itself going because it produces more heat.
So that’s the fire triangle.
And if you want to start a fire, you need to have all three present - fuel of some sort…in our fires we use wood or coal or in some barns across Ireland, wood pellets.
And the fuel is always oxygen, which is naturally in the air.
And the heat comes from a match or a lighter or something like that - something hot enough to get the fire going and to start that reaction between the fuel and oxygen.
And once it starts, off it goes…and to keep it going you add more fuel to the fire to react with the oxygen in the air.
And in the opposite way, if you want to stop a fire, you need to take away one of those elements in the fire triangle...
So if we take away the oxygen, the fire stops…That’s why we have carbon dioxide fire extinguishers - the carbon dioxide saturates the area, removing the oxygen and the reaction stops.
Or we add water to the fire - the water cools down the fire, removing the element of heat and again, the fire stops.
Or we can remove the fuel source. For example, in a gas fire, you turn off the gas and the fire stops. Take away all the wood from your stove and there’s no fire in the stove.
Now, when it comes to our houses, the reason we have a fire is for heat. We purposely light a fire - we add fuel to the fireplace or the stove, and we ventilate the room providing oxygen, opening the vents at the bottom of the fire to let in more air and hence more oxygen.
And we light the fire - giving it heat in order to start the reaction, and the fire itself keeps the reaction going. And the reaction goes as long as we add fuel to the fire.
But the point of it is to actually PRODUCE heat. So, in a controlled situation, we add oxygen to fuel to produce heat. That’s the goal - that’s the outcome of a fire.
Now, fire can be so destructive. We saw pictures during the week of the fire at Tollymore Forest Park - you’d think it was like California.
So let’s think about that for a second....and in case you’re wondering, we ARE getting to the word of God in a second…but in a forest fire, the fuel is all the trees around. The oxygen is in the air, and the heat comes from a campfire gone wrong, or arson, or even a discarded empty bottle can focus the sun’s rays on the dry ground and it can start the reaction with oxygen.
And as the wind blows, it blows the heat across to more trees, supplying it with more oxygen, and so the fire spreads like…well, like wildfire.
Now, keep all that in the back of your mind as we look at our passage today in Acts, which is the start of a new series we’re doing in the book of Acts. A series that I’m really excited about, because it’s so relevant to us today in church, because Acts is a template for how church should be done and we can learn so much from this book.
So we’re going to read it bit by bit, stopping to take in the scenery as we go....
1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So, to set the scene slightly, this is Luke writing this book to a man named Theophilus. In fact, you could think of this book as Luke the sequel. He started off talking about Jesus and everything he and his disciples did - don’t forget, Luke wasn’t one of the 12 disciples. And then he’s continuing the account of what happens after Jesus goes back to heaven.
And at this point, Luke is building up to the initial climax of what’s about to happen - because before Jesus goes to the Father he says to the disciples, ‘You will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’
And this is critical to this book. In fact, I think the book shouldn’t be called the Acts of the Apostles…it should be called, ‘the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles.’
Now there’s a reason for this - If the church is to grow, it needs help to grow. And you’d think Jesus would be the best person to help it. And he is, but he’s limited to space because of his physical human body - that was a sacrifice he made when he came to earth.
The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, ISN’T limited to space, and so it’s HIS turn to work his power…and that’s what happens, which we’ll see in the coming weeks.
Because all these things that the Apostles do are done through the power of the Holy Spirit. These Apostles speak with boldness, when once they were shy - we’ll see that with Peter, who denied Jesus and yet stand up in front of the religious leaders and makes his claim to his allegiance to Jesus…That’s the power of the Holy Spirit.
We’ll see the apostles healing people who are lame, even raising people who have died after falling asleep in a sermon…That’s the power of the Holy Spirit.
We’re going to see people having dreams and visions and being directed in their mission to be witness of Jesus wherever they go…That’s the power of the Holy Spirt.
And we’re going to see the gospel message being shared with not only the Jews, but everyone else and the church grows almost exponentially…that’s the power of the Holy Spirit.
So Jesus has to go, and he did in order that the Holy Spirit could show us what WE can do…let me rephrase… he did it to show us what the Holy Spirit can do IN us and THROUGH us.
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
So Jesus leaves them but he promises them this power - now at this point in time, I’m not sure they know what kind of power that is, but they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them… and there is a reason for the Holy Spirit coming upon them - because the Holy Spirit will enable them to carry on the work that Jesus started.
And that’s why we have the Holy Spirit today - because we…all of us who have trusted Jesus Christ for the salvation of their sins… we are the church. And the church is God’s chosen instrument to spread the word of God and to extend the good news that Jesus Christ saves people from their sins across the world.
That’s the mission of the church - and it should be our mission too.
And, again, that’s why Jesus was leaving his Spirit to help us in this - because the building of the kingdom of God is a supernatural, spiritual thing that we can’t do on our own. God chose the church to be his instrument of spreading the gospel, but he didn’t leave us empty handed…and that’s why we have Spiritual gifts and so on - to build this body and kingdom up.
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
Now this is where we’ll stop today.
But what we’re going to see in the book of Acts, is that the building of the kingdom wasn’t about building a physical kingdom. It wasn’t about building an organised religion with fancy buildings. It started out with a group of people devoted to prayer, meeting in each other’s homes.
There were no church buildings back then, and to be honest, I think that’s one of the hindrances of our church - the buildings, which people pour money into, to the point that the building becomes a shrine or a god…something to be worshiped…and, funny thing I’ve noticed is that the churches which are thriving are in warehouses, because the people have got their priorities right by investing in the kingdom of God rather then in bricks and mortar.
Now that’s not always the case, but it’s interesting that there are many churches where the people give so much more into the building than into kingdom building - in other words, there is more focus to the building fund than to the freewill offering, and many of those churches have lost their fire…because the church is NOT about the building - it never was…it never should be.
And so People met in each other’s homes, and they prayed…and they prayed…and they prayed.
Time and time again, the apostles and others are described as praying - devoting themselves to prayer…praying, praying, praying.
In fact, that’s how deacons came about (or in Presbyterian terminology, it’s how the committee came about) - We’ll see in Acts 6, the apostles were getting requests to help others in the church out, but they knew their priority was in prayer and the preaching of the word, so they appointed deacons - servants - to help meet those people’s needs so that the church leaders could focus on prayer and preaching.
And it should be the same today.
But the point is this - the church grew because of the willingness of people to be involved in prayer. And it grew through the power and influence of the Holy Spirit…but God CHOSE the church to be his instrument in spreading the gospel to grow the body of Christ.
And the gospel spread like…well, like wildfire. And the church grew and spread like…well, like wildfire.
So…let’s think about wildfire and the fire triangle…In fact, let’s look at the ‘on fire’ triangle.
So God has chosen the church to be the harbingers of good news - to be the heralds of the awesome news that there is life after death for anyone who trusts in Jesus Christ. That people can have the obstacle between them and God removed through faith in Jesus Christ.
And the ‘fire’ that we’re looking for is growth…not just numeric growth, but spiritual growth - that’s MUCH better than numbers, but mark my words, where there is spiritual growth, the numbers will grow too.
And so it is the people that are the fuel…They are wood in the fire.
The heat source comes through prayer. These people in Acts were devoted to prayer day and daily - prayer individually and prayer together as they met throughout the week. Prayer, prayer, prayer. Praying people were the fuel and the heat source for setting the church on fire for Jesus.
And God has given us his Holy Spirit to help us, to aid us in our mission. He provides the very thing necessary to make it happen. And, incidentally, the word for Spirit in the bible in both old and new testaments is the word for breath. The Spirit is considered the breath of God. And it is the Spirit that provides the oxygen.
And so we blow on a fire to get it going…that’s what bellows do - they provide the oxygen to a fire.
And in the same way, God has given us the Holy Spirit - the Spirit is the oxygen of the church - the Spirit is the lifeblood - without him there would be no reaction, without him there would be no growth.
And when all three are together and controlled, the church spreads like…well, like wildfire.
But take one of those away and the reaction stops.
Take away the fuel…remove people from the church, people who are serving and worshipping, and the reaction stops. The church is not on fire anymore.
Take away the heat - stop praying...cool down your devotion to Jesus…water it down so much that it is barely an ember, and the reaction stops. The church is not on fire anymore.
Take away the Holy Spirit and there is no church - the reaction stops. The church is not on fire anymore.
The good news is that God’s Holy Spirit isn’t going anywhere. He’s here and in us and with us…but there are times when God has enough of people’s apathy and he removes his presence from them and leaves them to their own devices.
Here’s an example from Romans…Now, when I read this, think about what I said earlier - about many people pouring money into buildings rather than into the word of the Lord - essentially worshiping a building, and see how similar this is to what Paul is writing about...
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Now, don’t get me wrong - don’t mishear me - we need our buildings to facilitate worship…but there are SO many places where the congregation worship the building rather than God. Could that be said of Hillhall?
Would you come to Hillhall if it was a warehouse?
In fact, when September comes, I’m very tempted to look for a church with the ugliest building or one that is in a barn or warehouse, or a rented hole in the wall, because I don’t want the building to be a hindrance of worship or an object of worship.
But the point is that I wonder if there are churches in the country, where God has PERHAPS removed himself and given the church over to their own selfish desires…Where the Holy Spirit has left the building, in other words…and the reaction has stopped. People are still coming into a building every week, but there’s no fire.
But while God’s Spirit is still with us, there are also places where people aren’t serving God - there is no fuel. Or there is no heat…there are places where only a handful attend the prayer meetings. There are places where there is little or no prayer…where there is no devotion to praying individually OR as a group of people…what happens at that point? The reaction stops. The church starts to lose its fire.
Or you get places where the people are so cooled down - so cold in their faith that there’s no heat… and the reaction stops. Jesus said the same in Revelation 3...
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. 15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!
16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.
19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”
This church in Laodicea had lost their heat…they had become lukewarm. The reaction had stopped. And God is saying, ‘I want to spit you out of my mouth. You think you’re great because you’re rich and wealthy, but you don’t realise that you are blind and naked.’
And verse 20, which is used as an evangelistic tool, is taken out of context when it’s used in that way. Jesus says...
20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
Jesus is talking, not to unbelievers - he’s not knocking on the door to their hearts…he’s knocking on the the door to the CHURCH. Which means that if Jesus is standing at the door of the church, knocking to get in, it means that the church has left Jesus out. Jesus is outside of the church…and he’s knocking saying, ‘LET ME IN’.
And when Jesus is outside of the church the reaction stops…there is no heat, there is no reaction…there is no ‘on fire’ for Jesus. The church has lost its fire.
The book of Acts will show us what is important as a church and what we need to take hold of and what we need to jettison and get rid of.
Friends, we need to wake up as a church, examine where we are and fix what we need to fix in our own lives and as a church, in order to make sure that the reaction keeps going and becomes stronger and stronger so that we are ‘on fire’ for Jesus....because when we are, we will see THIS church…this very church spread like…well, like wildfire.