Why “Brushfires?”

People sometimes wonder why we named this ministry The Brushfires Foundation. We most often cite a Sam Adams quote: “It does not take a majority to prevail, but a …tireless minority keen on setting brushfires of freedom in men’s minds.” For us, standing apart from the culture on sexuality issues is not a deterrent, but a motivation for greater prayer, planning, and engagement.

We are also inspired by that great Holy Fire of the Spirit, visibly gifted to believers in Jerusalem on Pentecost. Appearing as tongues of flame, the Holy Spirit enabled these Christ-followers to talk with travelers from all over the known world in their own languages. Three thousand believers were added to their number that day.

There is another influence on our choice of names that is little known outside of Wisconsin where we were formed.

Most people have heard about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. This calamity was supposedly started when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern. That theory has long been debunked, but the fire itself destroyed a significant part of the city and fundamentally changed the way modern cities were planned.

Unknown to most people is the story of a much larger and far more devastating fire that occurred on the same night 200 miles to the north. As the Chicago Fire killed up to 300 people and destroyed roughly 3.3 square miles, or 2,100 acres of the city, the Great Peshtigo Fire consumed 1.5 million acres of land in Wisconsin and Michigan and killed 3,000 people or more.

So, what does America’s deadliest forest fire have to do with The Brushfires Foundation? Allow me to explain.

In frontier Wisconsin, much of the state was covered in white pine. It was said that a squirrel could cross the entire state without touching the ground once. It wasn’t long before companies came to harvest this timber paradise. When the lumberjacks felled a tree, they lopped off the branches and created huge slash piles before moving on.

At the same time, farmers in the region were clearing out their 40-acre parcels. Much of this timber was also cut, set aside, and burned. A railroad was also being laid to access the iron mines of northern Michigan. The rail crews cut and burned thousands of trees as they laid the hundreds of miles of track.

Throughout the summer of 1871, hundreds of small slash piles were burning throughout northeast Wisconsin. It also happened that the summer of 1871 was one of the driest on record. Less than 2 inches of rain fell all summer. By October most of the crops, swamps, and grasses were dry and brittle.

On the night of October 8, a severe low-pressure system moved into the area. According to barometric readings, these low-pressure cells were tornadic in nature. When this weather system reached northeast Wisconsin, it whipped these hundreds of small brushfires into to blazing pyres. Almost instantly, they connected and began to consume the surrounding forest.

By the time the fire reached the town of Peshtigo, the fire was a hurricane of flames reaching thousands of feet into the sky. The fire was so hot that boulders split, sand turned to glass, and whole trees were ripped out of the ground and exploded in mid-air. The devastation was complete and the loss of life catastrophic.

For the Peshtigo Fire to occur, four elements needed to be present:

  • Flame
  • Favorable conditions
  • Powerful winds
  • Plentiful fuel

If any one of these were lacking, the tragedy would have been avoided. Yet, if a disaster could be sparked by such a combination of elements, couldn’t a transformational social change originate from them as well?

When I formed The Brushfires Foundation, I could see that God was already lighting “brushfires of freedom” in people’s minds. A tireless minority of pastors, therapists, ministry leaders, and ordinary Christians were already catching God’s vision to restore the church’s understanding of and engagement on sexual issues.

The conditions for change are certainly favorable. More and more people are being ground down by the gears of the Sexual Revolution, pornography is shaping an entire generation (or two) of youth, sexual exploitation is on the increase, and our culture is in a spiritual drought. People are thirsty for living water.

The Big Wind in this scenario is the work of the Holy Spirit. Over the past six years, I clearly see God’s Spirit at work in Brushfires and the larger movement. The recent Sexual Integrity Leadership Summit in San Antonio is just one of the ways God is launching a powerful renewal movement in our churches.

Today, passion for sexual wholeness is blazing, the spiritual condition of our culture is dry, and the Holy Spirit is gathering an army of workers willing to go into the dark with the light and warmth of Christ. If we are missing anything, it’s the fuel to take this blaze to the next level.

If just one of those four elements were missing in October 1871, Peshtigo would have continued as a thriving mill town. I believe we haven’t see a similar renewing fire in the Church on sexual issues because we have so little fuel to burn. Most sexual integrity ministries are sorely underfunded. Jesus told us to pray for more workers to bring in the harvest. But, now, we have workers standing by with no equipment. The harvest we could bring in is rotting in the field.

In Peshtigo, the initial fires grew into something almost unimaginable at the beginning of the storm. I believe something similar is possible in the spiritual realm on this issue. Whatever God is calling you to contribute, please do so with joy and expectation that something much greater than you can imagine is being unleashed.

 

Sex and global evangelism?

Recently, I was talking to a friend about the ongoing challenge ministries have in raising money. She also runs a non-profit organization and knows these difficulties well. As we talked, she thought of one donor she knew whose emphasis is on global evangelism. Trying to connect us, she asked, “Do you think your work on sexual brokenness is a doorway to evangelism?”

This is a great question and my answer is a resounding “YES.” The more I do this work, the more clearly I see how our bodies and souls are intricately linked. We are spiritual, sexual and relational beings down to our very core. We read in Genesis that God created us in His image and likeness, “male and female He created them.” The progressive world is desperate to eliminate the unique and complementary qualities of men and women, but Christians teach that these serve as signs pointing us to the love of God.

But how?

The answer is found in that Creation passage in which we learn that God created men and women in His image and likeness. While we can’t reason our way back to God based on human experience, we do see consistency between the mutual love of a man and women and that expressed by God throughout the Bible. We first notice this in the very nature of God Himself. We profess our faith in the one God who eternally exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is not the Son is not the Holy Spirit.

These Trinitarian Persons are intimately linked to one another in love and essence and yet are distinct, each keeping His own qualities. For humans, the unity in diversity is best captured by Jesus when he explains the foundational relationship between men and women in Matthew 19: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.”

The man and woman are still distinct persons, but within the intimate communion of marriage, they are also something greater than they are alone. Further, in the intimate marital embrace, they are able to receive the blessing of fertility, which brings forth new life. This also is a characteristic of God’s creating and redeeming love.

This isn’t just my take. The Bible consistently puts forward marital love as a picture or a sign of God’s love for His people. Throughout the Old Testament God calls Himself the Bridegroom and Israel His wandering bride. Jesus also refers to himself as the bridegroom several times in the Gospels. The Apostle John gives us a glimpse of the splendor at the end of all time, which is a wedding feast between Christ and His bride, the Church.

If you’ll notice, all this talk about men and women, marriage and sexuality, wasn’t so much about actions as it was about identity. To be male or female and made in the image and likeness of God is to realize the deepest truth of who we are. How we act in life always flows from who we are, or, perhaps more accurately, who we believe ourselves to be.

Going back to the original question, our culture’s unreasonable move to a genderless society will have tragic spiritual implications. Apart from the public safety aspects of joint bathrooms and shower rooms, our dismantling of male-female marriage as an elevated cultural norm brings with it the destruction of one of the most significant earthly signs pointing us to the love of God.

The goal of evangelism is the proclamation of the redemption found only in Jesus Christ and his work that restores us to right relationship with God and others. If you have a heart for global or local missions, you could hardly do more important work than to remind people of their God-given identity as a man or woman in Christ. And, as we survey the culture around us, we know the truth of Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

What is your gift to the world?

A few years ago, I attended a conference for individuals involved with sexual integrity ministries. We were asked to sit quietly for 5 minutes and pray about what God was calling us to share over the weekend. For five minutes I prayed, and, no matter how many times I questioned it, only one phrase came to mind.

All you have to offer is your brokenness.

The thought of being open with others about our shortcomings, failures and sins is frightening. We look around and see smiling, happy people everywhere. How could I, we think, bring my darkness into the sunny lives of those around me? So, we learn to hide this darkness deep in our hearts and construct elaborate life systems to mask our true selves. We think this will protect us from the pain of being vulnerable with others. In fact, our pain increases when we isolate ourselves from others.

As it turned out, my time to share didn’t come until the last night of the conference. All official functions were finished and I was sitting with a friend by the pool. “Did I ever tell you about the time…?”

For the first time in many years, I opened up a dark and formative part of my past with someone. It involved an incident that I had handled, for which I had sought and received forgiveness, for which I had made amends. Then I packed it up gently and put it on the top shelf of an unused closet in a back bedroom of my life. I thought there was no need for me to ever mention it again.

But, when I shared the story with my friend that night, I was amazed to experience a freedom I didn’t know I needed. I was so struck by the feeling that I decided to share my story of failure with my men’s group. It was even more liberating. This freedom came from simply allowing the truth of my life to align with my public persona.

In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that the final obstacle to true Christian fellowship is the inability to be sinners together.

“The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners.”

A funny thing happened in my men’s group. Others began to share some of their deep struggles, too. And, as each one shared he was met with support, encouragement, prayer, love and acceptance. The isolation, shame and fear was gone. We had discovered the freedom to be sinners together and to offer encouragement and support to one another. True Christian fellowship!

However, there is more to the story. Learning to open up and be honest about our shortcomings doesn’t just free us to live in freedom. It also frees others to become more of whom God created them to be.

Some months after the conference, the friend who sat with me at the pool shared a thought he encountered in The Cure by John S. Lynch. He said, “Your brokenness is designed to bring out the identity, calling and thriving of another person. You are not being selfish when you allow yourself to be ministered to.”

How many of us have ever thought that our brokenness could actually be a gift to another? We are trained to think of weakness or illness as a burden to others, never as a blessing. How could this be?

The Bible teaches that Jesus set aside the glory of God in order to take human form and become one of us. Although he had access to the power of God throughout his life, he very often chose not to use it, especially when it would have made a big impact. Weakened by a 40-day fast, Jesus defeated the devil with faith and words rather than signs and wonders. Beaten, cursed and left to die on the cross, Jesus did not react to the taunts of the crowd to “save yourself.” Rather, he chose the path of suffering and bought our freedom with his frailty.

For us to not embrace weakness and suffering, then—in ourselves and in others—is to refuse the cross of Christ. The brokenness of the dying God on the cross became the most unbelievable blessing the world could ever hope to have. Is it possible that there is real power in our brokenness as well?

Jesus told us to take up our crosses, too. For some, this means allowing our brokenness to gurgle up to the surface with a few trusted friends. For others it means finding the courage to stop pretending we have it all together and being honest with others about our struggles. All of us are called to open ourselves up to the freedom for which Christ set us free (Gal. 5:1).

You have a gift to offer the world. This gift is yourself with all your unique stories, dreams, and even failures. Take courage and let God call you into greater integrity and freedom. And, understand that all of us are on that journey together.

Prayer points for taking action

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.
Proverbs 16:3

Laying the spiritual foundation for public engagement

Throughout Scripture, God showed His people that the battles they encountered were not theirs alone, but belonged to the Lord. In fact, the idea that we cannot do it by ourselves is the central message of the Bible. We are reminded in Paul’s letter to the Romans that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are told that there is no other name by which people are saved, except Jesus.

Engaging difficult issues in the public square is no different. Without the guidance, wisdom and courage that come from God, our efforts will fall short. Paul explains in Ephesians 6:12:  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

If we set out to engage the culture, we must first be spiritually prepared. These seven prayer points establish a foundation for your spiritual preparations before and during your public stand for decency and righteousness.

1) Self-examination
The prophet Jeremiah paints a grim picture of the human condition, calling the heart “deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” Personal examination, confession and repentance ought to be a frequent practice for all Christians, but more so prior to undertaking a public campaign. Prayers of self-examination open us up to God’s penetrating love. Bare your soul before Him. Ask the Lord to reveal unknown sin and character flaws that could trouble your efforts. Pray especially for the right motivations for your actions. The world will not be persuaded by signs, angry words, boycotts or public denouncements, but it may be moved by our love.

2) Identify projects for action
Your intended action may seem obvious – a sexually oriented bookstore tempting men in the area or a strip club driving a wedge in marriages and harming vulnerable women. We tend to think that because the wrongness of something is so clear, we know exactly what needs to be done. But do we see the entire picture? Is it simply about shutting down a business, or do the people working within that business also need support? A good prayer for identifying initiatives goes: “Lord, I don’t ask that you bless the work of my hands, but that you teach me to follow where you are leading.”

3) Identify prayer partners and supporters
We were designed to live and work in community. Taking a public stand can be exhausting and frustrating work. You will need allies on the ground and in prayer. Spend time praying about the effort, and ask God to bring to mind people suited for various tasks. The Apostle Paul compares the fellowship of believers to a body with many parts (1 Corinthians 12:1-31). We all play a role in life, but we don’t all play all roles. Where are you weak? Where will you need help? Let God surprise you and in so doing remind you whose effort this really is.

4) Pray for your initiatives and projects
Once you have gathered supporters and have identified your target, pray for the overarching strategy, for the tiniest details, for problems to be solved, for hearts to change, for everything involved. Be assured that obstacles will arise and partners may get discouraged; the effort may even seem doomed. God is not surprised by any of it. This time of prayer is for you to find out what God is doing, how He is leading, and how you are to respond. Prayer is the foundation for all your efforts.

5) Lift up those with whom you will be dealing, including those who will oppose you
Jesus spent long periods of time in prayer, perhaps communicating with the Father about whom he would encounter that day. Pray for those whose help you need, for those who have yet to see the truth, and especially for those who oppose you. When Jesus challenged his followers to show love to enemies as well as friends, he introduced a mode of engagement far different than the world expects or our hearts usually desire. To begin to see those who hate and revile us as lost souls in need of God’s mercy is to see them through the eyes of Jesus. They may not listen to your words, but God hears your prayers and desires that none would be lost.

6) Pray for those in bondage and those in need of healing
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that we can never be closer to another person as we are when we pray for him in Christ. The addicts, the spouses, the children, the clerks, the dancers, the women being prostituted—all are in desperate need of love and support. They may not know it or want it. They may want nothing to do with you, but God wants everything to do with them. When you pray, ask God to reveal ways you can serve them, perhaps through small acts of kindness, such as a smile, a grocery store coupon, or a gift that recognizes their inherent dignity.

7) Pray for God’s design for culture and community to take root
Engaging publicly or politically may lead to fantastic victories or it could involve slow, slogging work. Either way, be mindful of what would fill the void if you are successful. It isn’t enough to cry against pornographic sexuality, we must be prepared to introduce people to God’s design for sexuality and relationships. The Gospel message is hope for men trapped in darkness, for women with no choices in life, for youth encouraged to be sexual animals, for families broken by infidelity, pornography or divorce. We pray for help living this message ourselves and for opportunities to spread the Word. We do not stand against things, but for the good things that honor and uphold the dignity and beauty of all.

Copyright © 2011, Daniel Weiss. All rights reserved. Used with permission.