Jesus led me out of the Fishing Room, down a corridor, deeper into the mysterious Fish House. The walls and ceiling were all of warm, sweet smelling cedar planking. Lanterns lined the walls giving the place a cozy cabin feel. Under my feet, the ice was replaced by granite tile covered by a long, Persian runner of crimson hues. The soft rug was a warm and welcoming treat for my cold wet feet.
You would never have guessed we were still inside that little fishing shack on the ice. With each step, the temperature in the room increased. My nostrils were tickled by all the soothing, warming aromas of a luxury arctic spa — eucalyptus and lavender the most potent. The cold, drafty environs of the icy fishing room were replaced with the steamy warmth of the Father’s Sauna.
We reached the end of the long hallway, and stepped inside a changing room next to two doors that looked like a sauna and steam room. I was already beginning to sweat, even though I was still wearing just my shorts and t-shirt only partially dried by the fishing stove. The curved shape of the walls and ceiling reminded me of the inner cabin of a boat.
Jesus told me to get undressed and go sit inside the sauna. He would give me further instructions once inside. As I shed my last layer of clothes, I noticed a verse on the wall over the sauna door:
STRIP OFF EVERYTHING THAT HINDERS AND THE SIN THAT SO EASILY ENTANGLES.
Opening the sauna door I was hit with a blast of oppressive dry heat. Once inside I took in my surroundings. It was mostly a typical sauna, except for the ceiling which had countless names, each with a number by it, engraved into the cedar planks.
What is the meaning of these names and numbers? I wondered.
“Jeremy? Can you hear me ok?” I heard Jesus’ voice loud and clear as though through invisible surround sound speakers.
“Yes,” I replied. “Are you going to join me in here? It feels so nice and toasty in here after nearly freezing to death on the ice earlier.” (I would soon change my mind about this.)
“I’m afraid I cannot join you for this part, but I will be standing just outside until it is finished.”
“Until what is finished?” I asked with growing curiosity — and fear.
Jesus began to explain:
“In the fishing room we examined the Spirit-led appetites of your soul. Inside here we’re going to deal with the sinful appetites of your ‘flesh.’ Every human soul is caught in a continual tug-o-war match — pulled in two directions by the opposing desires of the Spirit and of the flesh. Just read the verse engraved on the wall behind you.”
Turning around I read:
THE DESIRES OF THE FLESH ARE AGAINST THE SPIRIT, AND THE DESIRES OF THE SPIRIT ARE AGAINST THE FLESH; FOR THESE ARE OPPOSED TO EACH OTHER.
“No trip to the Father’s Cabin is complete without at least a little time sweating out the impurities of your soul. This, too, is not the most pleasant experience; but I promise you’ll feel much better afterwards.”
In my nakedness I sat exposed — body and soul — in the steadily increasing heat of the father’s sweat lodge. As I awaited further instructions, I pondered the reality of sweat as a sort of physical counterpart to confession and purgation of sin.
I’ve read about indigenous peoples of American, notably the Plains Indians, involved in religious ceremonies called “sweats” which also focused on purification, prayer and healing.
But my mind quickly raced to other Biblical images for God’s soul-cleansing, purifying and sometimes punishing work among his people. The primary image that came to mind was God as “consuming fire” and our lives being tested by to burn away the impurities.
As beads of sweat began to multiply on my forehead, and my breathing became heavier, Jesus’ voice finally came again through the speakers in the sauna, like a tour guide on a very strange tour.
“Alright, the most important thing to remember is to stay hydrated in there. As you sweat out the bad, you must be filled back up with the good. Do you see the empty wooden bucket and ladle on the bench over there? Grab hold of it.”
I picked it up, and just as my fingers wrapped around the handle, wood-burned writing suddenly appeared on the side of the bucket — text that wasn’t there a second ago.
“Read the words out loud, Jeremy,” Jesus said in a more serious tone.
I read aloud: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
At the exact moment the last syllable came out of my mouth, the bucket was suddenly filled up by some invisible water source.
“Do you want to be cleansed from all unrighteousness, Jeremy? Do you want your sins forgiven?”
“You know I do!” I returned.
Jesus commanded: “Then walk over to the stove in the corner, and stand over the heated rocks.”
As I moved cautiously, obediently, toward the source of increasingly unbearable heat, my eyes caught another verse on the opposite wall:
HE WILL SIT LIKE A REFINERS OF SILVER, BURNING AWAY THE DROSS. HE WILL PURIFY THEM LIKE GOLD AND SILVER.
As I stood over the sauna stove with its stones, it was indeed transformed into a burning altar straight from the Holy Temple.
Jesus’ voice again came from above, but now several octaves lower. He sounded less like the friend I had walked in the garden and chatting with in the rowboat earlier today, and more like the thundering of a thousand waterfalls during the spring thaw.
He commanded in no uncertain terms: “Throw the water onto the altar, and gaze upon the burning coals.”
At the sound of his voice, and the water hitting the stove, the door and thresholds shook and the sauna was suddenly filled with a thick misty fog. Through the mist I looked upon what used to be ordinary igneous sauna stones, but now saw in each stone, or each burning coal, a miniature movie replaying sinful moments from my recent past.
On the one stone, I saw my anger explode at home with the kids.
On another stone, I saw my selfishness displayed in a petty argument with my wife.
On another stone, I saw moments of sexual temptation and lustful passions indulged.
Stone by stone, my manifold sins were revealed to me in living color.
I wanted to look away, but forced myself to face the full ugliness of my sin head on. I now understood why Jesus stayed outside the sauna walls for this part — for “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil” (Hab. 1:13).
The voice, even louder now, thundered: “Reach down with the tongs near the altar and take up a stone, Jeremy.”
I did as Jesus asked, but found the stone, the burning coal which embodied for the moment my sin, though only the size of a tennis ball, was too heavy to lift!
“I can’t lift it, Jesus! It’s too heavy for me!” I cried. “How much can one stone possibly weigh?”
There was a pregnant pause after my question left my lips. In that moment of sacred silence, the Son of God was not doing quick math or calculating the weight of a sauna stone. He was reliving a moment, replaying a memory, he was feeling again the agonizing pain and unbearable weight he once carried on his shoulders.
“Jesus?” I asked again. “How much does this stone weigh?”
He finally answered with a somber, heavy tone: “A Roman cross — each stone weighs the same as a Roman cross.”
I stared at the burning coals on the altar, pondering the weight of my accumulated transgressions, each one placed upon the back of my savior. And I was undone.
Isaiah’s words overtook me, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips” (Isaiah 6:5). But instead of the Seraphim putting a burning hot coal to my lips, Jesus offered me the grace of his living water.
“Pick up the bucket again, Jeremy.”
As I grabbed the handle, I read aloud the new words that appeared: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).
The bucket was instantly overflowing with the same water that woman was offered long ago at that fateful well. Jesus said: “Drink!”
I drank, and my body felt the rush of cool refreshment that touched not just a fainting body but a parched soul. Jesus then spoke the words to me that once came to Isaiah: “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7).
Looking again at the altar, my vision grew fuzzy, and my head grew dizzy, as the images and movie scenes of sin projected on the scorching hot rocks all swirled together. Sin upon sin piled up on that burning stove.
As I looked at the burning coals, I could no longer separate them by individual sins, to order them, name them, keep track of and try to number them. It was not a matter of dealing with a few isolated sins. I had a Sin problem.
“Take the bucket again, Jeremy, and pour it on the rocks,” the voice commanded.
The cool waters collided with the burning heat of my fleshly desires and sinful acts, resulting in the expected explosion of steam and a sudden burst of heat against my skin. The steam floated up to the ceiling, like a sinner’s prayer for forgiveness rising to the heavenly throne.
“Set the water bucket down, and pick it up again,” Jesus commanded. As I did so, another scripture was emblazoned in the wood. I read aloud: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery; hatred, discord, jealousy, and rage; rivalries, divisions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
I was feeling faint and light headed again as I read aloud this gut-wrenchingly honest account of the fleshly nature at war with the Spirit inside me. As I read slowly, word for word, it felt like each sin was running down my body in liquid form; every bead of sweat dripping from my brow was outward evidence of an inward reality.
Discord…drip, drip, drip.
Jealousy…drip, drip, drip, drip.
I began to faint again, overcome by the heat and oppressive realization of my impurities. Jesus told me to go lie down on the wooden bench.
“Sweat it out, Jeremy. Let the Psalms aid you in the process.”
I began to pray Psalm 51 as I laid on my back, drenched in the full awareness of my sins dripping down my body:
“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings….
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.”
Jesus replenished the water again, and I drank. Feeling momentarily refreshed, I sat up. Looking around I again noticed how much the interior of the sauna was fashioned after the inner cabin of a small ship — even small port hole windows let in a little daylight through the fogged up glass.
“What does it all mean, Jesus? The sauna and its heat, the sweating, the burning coals or sauna stones, the magical water bucket, the names and numbers on the ceiling — What does it all mean? Why am I here?”
Jesus began to explain: “The purpose of the Father’s Sauna is to come to terms with one’s sin. You have already seen your sins reflected in the burning coals on the altar. You have felt briefly how one’s sins can weigh a person down if they’re not dealt with.
“But one’s sin does more than weigh a person down; they burn burn the people all around us. If only our sins could be so easily contained in stones on a sauna stove, or coals on an altar.
“The reality is our sin is more like hundreds of flaming particles orbiting our bodies at the speed of light, colliding with and burning anyone who comes too close. There’s a destructive energy to our pride and envy, our self-pity and selfishness, and every sin that clings to us. Our sin swirls around us, hurting others if we don’t quench the flaming projectiles before their orbits increase their radius.”
“What must I do?” I pleaded.
“Like water on the burning stove, douse the sins that burn within with the waters of repentance. Sweat out impurities by confessing your sins to the Father daily, and then be replenished by the living water I provide,” Jesus answered.
“Make no mistake: dealing with your sins head on can be as uncomfortable as the oppressive heat of a sauna, but you’ll walk out of that inner sanctuary feeling cleansed and a whole lot lighter.
“But,” Jesus added. “Its incredibly important to never face the ugliness of your sin without at the same time taking in the replenishing waters of gospel truth!”
I grabbed hold of the bucket and ladle again, and another scripture appeared on the bucket:“When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long…My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat” (Psalm 32:3-4).
As I read it, the bucket was filled. Jesus said, “Throw it on the altar!”
Puff! The steam cloud carried my confession upwards. Again, “Grab the bucket.” I read the next soul-quenching verse as cool, purified water filled to overflowing — the next half of the verse:
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Ps. 32:5).
“Jeremy, drink deeply of the Father’s forgiveness!”
Feeling replenished again, I laid my head back on the wooden bench to rest a moment. Looking up at the dripping planks of cedar above me, I saw again the inscribed names and numbers.
“Jesus, what are these names and numbers?” I asked.
“Jeremy, the temptations in your life are no different from what others experience” (1 Cor 10:13). Remember you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1) in your common struggle against the sin that so easily entangles us.
The names above are just a sampling of the many saints — known and unknown — who have spent many hours in the Father’s Sauna, confessing their sins and being cleansed and restored by the grace and truth of the gospel.”
“And what about the numbers after their names?” I asked.
“Ah, yes…that’s the date of their final liberation! Their grand Homecoming! You see, there’s an expiration date on each person’s struggle against sin and the flesh. A day will come when our flesh and spirit will no longer quarrel, we’ll be at last “conformed to the image of the Son” (Rom 8:29). On that day, we’ll desire only things that are pure and sinless as we dwell in the immediate presence of the Father.
“The dates above, Jeremy, mark their final visit to the Father’s Sauna, the last day on earth slugging it out “by the sweat of their brow” (Gen. 3:19). Your days are numbered as well, Jeremy. But until that great day of release comes, you need to come daily to the Father’s Sauna. In doing so, you join the great cloud of witnesses as you “run with endurance the race God has set before you” (Heb. 12:1).
Jesus filled the bucket up one more time, and I drink it all in: the weight of my sin; the oppressive heat of facing it head on; my confessions like sacrifices on an altar; my contrite prayers rising like steam to the throne of grace; my impurities being released from my body, dripping onto the floor like stinky sweat; and, of course, the essential life-saving truths of the gospel replenishing my soul and keeping me from passing out in the process.
I stood up, feeling much lighter, as if I had sweat off 10 pounds of sin. Refreshed — inside and out — I exited the sauna and entered the changing room where Jesus stood smiling, and holding out fresh clean clothes for me to put on.
I gladly received them, tired of being naked and ashamed. As I slipped into the tailor made, custom fit, perfectly sized garments, I found myself singing a song I had never heard and yet somehow had been inside me since birth:
Take off his filthy clothes!
See, I have removed your guilt,
and I will clothe you with splendid robes.
I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!
For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation
and draped me in a robe of righteousness!
-Zech 3:4; Isaiah 61:10-
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