I had to step back to admire my work. The flames spread faster than I had imagined. They had already climbed up the siding with minimal effort on my part. Points of yellow and orange reached out from under a blackened soffit and had begun to darken the fascia. Another five minutes passed and the eastern half of the roof was on fire . Propelled by a strong breeze, larger flames chased the black smoke westward across the wooden shingles. The corner where I started the fire collapsed in, revealing a blue and gray bedroom. Drywall fell onto a comforter and smoldered, waiting for the rest of it to catch.

Piece by piece, the house burned. It took memories with it. Photographs of long-dead relatives and keepsakes stashed in plastic bins disappeared along with carpeting, couches and chairs. Neighbors gathered behind me. They watched in horror, not understanding the process or its necessity. For some reason, none of them called the fire department or the cops. They were probably afraid I’d burn their homes down too. Even though they hated to see the beautiful house fall apart, they couldn’t stop watching. The destruction of suburban dreams might have been appealing, but then again, most carnage is attention-grabbing.

★                     ★                     ★

Droves of people lined up to be baptized by John. Some because they heard his message, others because a friend or relative told them. Several did it because the words he spoke meant something to them and others because so many people were doing it. He yelled a lot. But John also celebrated. He frequently smiled while baptizing. Everyone could tell that he loved a heartfelt response. All the people walked away feeling better about life until he said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matt 3:11, NIV)

Holy what?

Fire burns. Would this Man dunk us them John did, or could it be more of a sprinkling of fire? Could He do it to a baby? Would this fire be necessary for salvation? The people didn’t understand the fire concept, but remembered that John also said, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt 3:10, NIV)

This created more questions and concern about this Man who would come after John.

The Greek word for fire is pyr. It’s used along with the Greek figure of speech, “Not without damage”. I’ve heard the baptism of the Spirit explained in terms where fire really means passion, but according to John, they seem to be separate, or at least distinguishable. So either the Spirit comes, then fire shows up at another point, or when the Holy Ghost makes His appearance, He brings fire and apparently damage, too. Which makes me wonder, did all the men in Acts chapter two have little bald spots where their hair was singed away while they were busy yammering on in languages they didn’t understand?

Regardless, the Spirit comes after Jesus, and not without damage. What does this mean in your life and mine? I think it means that like the house I burned to the ground just a few paragraphs ago, He gets something old and established out of the way. It probably doesn’t feel good but then again, we can probably dance in the ashes to celebrate once process is complete. We also have to remember that the fire probably makes room for something better, created by the God who loves us enough to burn us.