Monthly Archives: April 2016

Being Refined, Part II

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,  Mal 3:3

My last blog was on being refined.  But there’s so much good stuff I’ve been learning.  I can’t stop with just one post!

So for this blog, I investigated how silver was refined in the olden days.    I found out it was a pretty arduous process of putting the silver ore over a blazing hot fire and keeping it there until the impurities have separated and burned away.

refining2

If that is a metaphor for how God purifies his people, it doesn’t sound like fun!

Does God refine the all of us like this, or was it just the Levites at that time in history?

In I Peter 1, Peter talked about the many “grievous trials” the first Christians endured, “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.”

It sounds like the refining of faith through testing is a process God likes to use for Christians.

Rats.  I wish I was like James, thinking it’s great when there are challenges!  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3

But more often I want to avoid the unpleasantness.  I haven’t been blogging partly because I had several bouts of depression.  When I’m depressed, I feel like a failure.   The voices of self-accusation are so loud!  It is very hard to feel like I am pleasing God.

And I’ve also been ADD.  My mind has been like a bee flitting from flower to flower, and not able to land in one place for long.   Plus, I’ve been working through the emotional fallout from some situations that upset me.

Is this refining?  It’s been making me feel like I’m becoming more unspiritual, not more spiritual!

It’s funny to me — last night we were talking at house church about the widow who gave two mites, and I saw how ironic it was that Jesus commended this woman who probably didn’t look sharp or well put together, and derided the teachers of the law who did look sharp and well put together. (Mark 12:38-44)

In my own life, I tend to think I need to feel and look like I have everything under control.  But maybe that’s not what God is seeking.

We can see what God is seeking by looking at the process of refining metal.  If God purifies us like silver, the following things are going to happen:

  1. We’re going to feel the heat! Refinement can’t happen if the temperature is just pleasantly warm.  In the same way, we’re not going to progress if it’s too easy and comfortable.  God’s going to put us right over the fire!!  “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”  II Cor 1:9
  2. We’re going to think it never ends. Refinement isn’t an instant chemical reaction.  It takes a good while for all of the impurities to burn away.  So we can’t expect to learn what we need to learn in a quick trial.  God works through processes.  “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Romans 5:3-4
  3. We’re going to be in a controlled situation. A silversmith has to keep a constant eye on the refining process to see when the impurities are burned off, and when he needs turn off the heat.  If he exposes it to fire too long, the silver can oxygenate too much and it will be unworkable.  In the same way, God doesn’t just expose us to heat and go off and do other things, like we do with a pot on the stove.  He monitors and protects us.  He gets us through at just the right time.  “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  I Cor 10:13
  4. We’re going to get radiant!! The end product, purified silver, is so shiny, it’s like a mirror. In Ephesians 5:29 it says that Jesus gave his life so the church could be radiant. So what does it mean to be radiant?  It means we’ve quit our whining and bellyaching and started trusting God completely!  “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure …Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” Phil 2:14-15

The upshot of this is that we start trusting God completely because the trials have made us realize the worthlessness of our own efforts and of the unspiritual things we’ve been relying on.

We’re studying the Bible right now with a woman who’s been through some really harrowing stuff in her life.  At this point in time she sees clearly that all of the things she’s been chasing are empty.  She told us that she is so sick of it all that she is ready to throw in the towel and give her life to God.

She’s going to God as the source.  That’s what I’m learning to do as well.  When I’m feeling weak, I’m seeing that I’ve got to rely more on the Spirit.

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Luke 11:13

When I’m feeling down, I’m remembering that His grace is sufficient, and that will get me through.

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” II Cor 12:9

When I have a sticky situation, instead of wracking my brain, I praying more, expecting God to help me work it out.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.  Ps 5:3

Instead of freaking out at a challenge, I’m taking a deep breath, accepting it, and asking God what he is trying to teach me.

He wakens my ear to listen like those who are being taught.  Isa 50:4

It’s true, I do feel a bit haggard and worn lately – a little like a widow with two mites myself!  But I’m learning to find peace.

I’m learning that God is the god of the broken, of those who are travel-stained and stumbling on the road.   I’m learning that God doesn’t want us to always look impressive, and be able to pat ourselves on the back.

This statement resonates with me, “We miss the gospel of God:  the good news that although the holy and all-powerful God knows we are but dust, He still stoops to breath into us the power of life – to bring to our wounds the balm of acceptance and love.” (Rich Mullins)

The gospel is that we who are dust, who feel the burden of our failings, can be healed, refined, made radiant.  It’s counter intuitive, but it is pure joy to undergo the grueling process of trials, because the end is so wonderful.

Still, the end product may not look like we think — us looking all sharp and well put together.  Instead, we become joyful beggars, exchanging our dross for riches with a loving savior who is happy to provide.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich. Rev. 3:18

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed . . . Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  II Cor 4:8-9, 16-17

Good things come to those who persevere!  Feeling emotional at the baptism of my friend Lauren.

Good things come to those who persevere! Feeling emotional at the baptism of my friend Lauren.

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Filed under Grace, Malachi, Perseverance, Surrender, Things I Am Learning

Being Refined

But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes.  Mal 3:2

Malachi prophesied that the coming of the Messiah would not be the wonderful feel good experience the Jews were expecting to have.

It would be tough and scary — a time of refining.

This past week I went out sharing with a sister who had never invited strangers to church before.  “It comes so naturally to you,” she said as she watched me.  I had to laugh.  I told her how hard it was for me when we moved to Atlanta to join a new church.  The church was running this “Just Do It” campaign where everyone was challenged to invite two people a day to church.

Whoa.  I thought I wanted to be a part of this fellowship.  It sounded great to be around people who were joyfully sold out for Christ.  But then we got down to the brass tacks.  It meant that I would have to give up my complacency and do things that were very uncomfortable for me.  I remember looking around at the church service, and thinking, “What have I done?”  I wasn’t sure I wanted to join after all.

We think following Christ is going to be all warm and fuzzy.  But when we actually have to do more of the things that Jesus did, it tests our hearts.

And this is what God intended, that with the coming of John the Baptist and Christ hearts would be tested.  The status quo would be challenged.

You see, the Jews kept going along, thinking everything was hunky dory between them and God.  When Jesus came, he made it very plain that they needed to be purified from the inside out:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

And Jesus especially attacked the religious leaders:  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”  Matt23:15

Jesus came to refine hard hearts.  He came to challenge all of those who thought they were clean with the truth that they were dirty on the inside.  As Malachi 3:2 said, they needed strong soap.

A few days ago, my friend Markeya and I had lunch with a friend who’s studying the Bible.   We sat at a table in the bright spring sun, and ate crepes and stuffed squash, and bonded.  We opened up about the hurts we’d gone through in the past.  We talked about how we’d all hardened our hearts as a result of these pains and shut ourselves off so we couldn’t be hurt again.

We read Luke 7:36-50 about the sinful woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet, wet them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  We discussed how amazing it was that this woman could have a soft heart.  Sin and pain hadn’t hardened her, as it had us.  And we prayed that we would all be more like this woman, able to let down the walls, able to come to Jesus in tears, admitting our sin and our need for his forgiveness.

This is what God is looking for.  This is the goal of refining:  a tender heart that reaches out in humility.

A heart that can see and admit sin.

I read a great passage in The Guilty Soul’s Guide to Grace by David Laing about what our attitude should be towards sin.  Laing writes that in Ps 51 David was essentially saying, “God, I have sinned.  But I want to see it like you do.  I want more than head knowledge.  I want heart knowledge.  I want you to remove all my rationalizations and excuses and show me my sin and myself in all their ugliness.”

The Jews didn’t have heart knowledge.

I’ve been praying lately that I would see my sin as God sees it, that the grime which clouds my vision — guilt, people pleasing and perfection seeking — would be removed.

Create in me a pure heart, O God!  (Ps 51:10)

Jesus came to create pure hearts.  And the process of creating them is intense, it’s a fiery furnace that exposes the truth in our inmost parts and brings to light those weaknesses we’d rather keep hidden.  It shows us the things we need to change.

And we want to run away.  We rationalize and fling out excuses.  We hold tightly to our complacency.

Until finally, we fall to our knees, and understand.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Blessed are the meek.  Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

We need God like the air we breathe.  We can’t do it on our own.

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.  II Chron 7:14

We need to be God sufficient, not self sufficient.

That is what Jesus came to teach us, that it’s not the religiously accomplished who are the heroes, or the wealthy or successful, but the widow who gives her last penny, the tax collector who prays for mercy, the sinful woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair.

Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.  James 4:10

The end of the story of me seeking to join the church in Atlanta is that I pushed through.  I found out I could do it, I could share with strangers.  And when I did, I was energized!  That pattern has continued over the years.  Things get hard.  I don’t know how I’m going to continue.  But I persevere, I rely on the Source, and I end up overflowing with joy.

God tests us, but we can put our hand in his and get through to the place on the other side.  And in the process our hearts are strengthened.

This past Sunday we had an AWESOME service.  Our little church of 50 people had 200 in attendance.  We commemorated all God has done for us over the years.  We’ve been through so much, but God brought us through!  We celebrated and praised him with all our hearts!

group

Yes, Jesus came to refine us.  Yes, it will be tough and scary.  But it is so worth it.

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, Humility, Malachi

Preparing the Way

I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Malachi 3:1a

Who is the messenger Malachi is talking about here?  It’s John the Baptist.  As Jesus said about him, “This is the one about whom it is written: ”I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'”  Matt 3:10

And what does it mean to prepare the way?  Isaiah also prophesied about this:

  • A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”  40:3
  • And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”  57:14
  • Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations.  62:10

God was saying was that there needed to be someone who would get things ready for his son to come to earth.  And that makes me wonder — why not just send Jesus right off?  Why have John the Baptist precede him?

Because, the verses say, there was a need to “remove the obstacles.”

What are the obstacles that John the Baptist removed?

Sin.  His message to people was simply to repent:

  • In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
  • And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Mark 1:4

Sins are like big stones that block the way of truly following Jesus.

I first started seeking God when I was a teenager.  I went all by myself to an Episcopal church, because I loved the way it felt holy.  But I didn’t change my life. I still partied and lived for myself.

Then Ken (my hubby) studied the Bible with me and I was baptized in the traditional church of Christ.  I did change.  I began to live the Christian life.  But I never made the commitment to give my whole self to God for the rest of my life.  I was still serving self.

Over time, I started noticing that I felt empty and unhappy.  I would go to bed at night and say, “What was it all for?”

Until finally God brought me to the point where I decided to get baptized again, and this time, commit myself totally to God and his mission on earth.  Now, as I look back over my life, I can clearly see that point as the time when I began to be happy deep down to the bone.

It wasn’t until I completely repented that I experienced the fullness of following Christ.

It’s like we read in Luke 9:  “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”    We have to lose our lives.  We have to get rid of the sin.  It’s as true now as it was then.  The more we surrender to God, the greater the blessings.

But the thing is, we don’t surrender.

For years, I told people, “I’m good.  I can serve God just the way I am.”  I didn’t see the need to give myself more completely.  I blithely went about my life, immersed in the busyness of my job, raising my children, doing church activities, and thought that was good.  I had a sort of “cruise control” Christianity.  I set my speed, and went through the motions.

And cruise control never got me where I needed to go.  I missed it, somehow, just as in Malachi, the Jews missed it.

You see, if you look at the verse in Malachi, it’s written to religious people, not to the heathens.  The Jews had gone through a powerful time of God bringing them back to Jerusalem, and helping them rebuilt the city and the temple.  They should have been eternally grateful, but over time, their commitment to God began to fade.  They didn’t see that they were getting wishy-washy, they kept asking God why he wouldn’t accept their offerings.  (2:13-14)  Like me, they were lost in religiosity.

That’s a scary thing, that we can get to a point where we’re blind to our need to repent.

The Jews would need a John the Baptist to come to them.

People need a John the Baptist today.

Yesterday one of the sisters was telling me about a young woman she’s been studying the Bible with, and how they read the verse, “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything they have cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33) The young woman’s face fell as her eyes opened to what the verse meant.  “I can’t do that,” she said.  She was very sad.

And that was hard for the sister.  She so badly wanted to tell her friend, “It’s okay.”  But she knew that lie wouldn’t help her.

Are we being John the Baptist for our friends, showing them the truth that will help them?  I can’t stress enough that this message of complete repentance is what people need, that they’re not getting from anyone else.  Everyone else is telling them it’s okay. Everyone else is perpetuating the blindness.  And then they miss the full relationship with God that could be theirs.

We have to effectively prepare the way for people to follow Jesus.  We need to help them get rid of ALL the obstacles. We need to open their eyes to what it means to give up everything.

It’s true, they won’t follow Jesus perfectly.  None of us do.  We’ll never dot all the “i”s and cross all the “t’s.”  But they CAN pledge to give their whole heart to God for all time, and do their best to live this out!

And if they get sad, if it seems too hard, encourage them that they CAN do it, just as we did, and it’s so worth it!!

Because the thing is, God said in Malachi that he wasn’t going to leave his people hopelessly stuck in their religiosity.  Even though they were stubborn and blind, he would provide a way for them to have the greatest blessings.

We are that way today.  Not the WAY, but the way to get to the WAY.

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Filed under Malachi, Repentance, Uncategorized

God is Enough

You have wearied the Lord with your words.

“How have we wearied him?” you ask.

By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”  Mal 2:17

Basically, the Jews were complaining to God about the prosperity of the wicked.  They whined about the injustice of it all:  Why would God lavish his blessings those who weren’t following him, and scrimp on his blessings for them?

It’s so easy to feel like we’re being shortchanged.

And it’s so easy to point our fingers at the sins of others.

I was in Walmart yesterday.  A mother was pushing one of her children around in the cart, while her other child wandered the aisle, looking at merchandise that interested him. When it was time to move on, she told the child in the aisle, “Let’s go.”  But the young boy kept on looking at the things on the shelf.  “He’s not coming,” the kid in the cart informed his mom in an annoying tone.  That child wanted to be sure his mom knew that his sibling wasn’t obeying.

Isn’t that the way we are?  We want to be sure that God knows how wrong others are.  We can see the injustice so clearly.  “It’s not right” we rail.  “They need to be fixed!”

And yet, like the Jews, we can be blind to the things we need to fix in our own characters.   “In their own eye they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their own sin.”  Ps 36:2

The only person we can really change is ourselves.

A few weeks ago, someone called my attention to some ways I had wronged them, and some shortcomings in my character.  I got very upset.   I wanted so badly to stew, and dwell on the unfairness, the shortcomings in THEIR character.  But I knew I had to use this instead as an opportunity to do some deep self searching.  It took a Herculean effort to pull my attention back to myself, and pray, day after day, to be able to see and change the things I needed to change.  Slowly, over time, with a lot of grace and help from God, my eyes were opened and I grew.

So I know how tempting it is to give into bitterness, to look at others and not myself.

For me, just like in Malachi, the bitterness also takes the form of envy.  I catch myself longing to have what others have.  Or, I should say, what they appear to have — no trials in their marriage, no problems with their kids.  They seem happy and successful at their jobs.  They look vigorous and attractive.  Their life seems smooth, without challenge.

And to make myself feel better, I point out their flaws, “They drink too much.  All they care about is things.  They’re arrogant.  They’re shallow and worldly.”

The thing is, God says this pervasive attitude makes him bone weary and dog tired.

Wait! God can’t get exhausted with us, he’s long suffering.  It’s true. God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.  (Ex 34:6)

But one of the few things that gets old with God is a lack of faith.  It was the same with Jesus when he was on earth.  “You of little faith,” he would say.

That’s the root of it.  We don’t trust.  We don’t believe that God will take care of us.  We don’t believe that God is enough for us.  And then we start wishing for greener grass.

We say, “Where is the God of justice?  We need more blessings!”  And then we rant, “Why don’t you do something about all of these people who are messing up the world?”

But God doesn’t need us to be his magnifying glass of what is wrong in others.  He needs us to study ourselves, identify the veins of discontent, root out the pockets of mistrust.

I just got a new pair of prescription glasses for the first time in ten years.  When I put them on in the store for the first time and looked in the mirror, I almost wished I hadn’t.  I could see all kinds of things I didn’t notice before — grey hairs springing from my crown, fine wrinkles and large pores.

It’s the same way when we look closely at ourselves.  We’ll find things that don’t look as good as we thought.

But we love God, so we WILL look.  We don’t want to weary him.  We want to refresh him with our faith, make him smile!

And the next time we’re tempted to say, “I wish,”  or “Why” or “If only,” we’ll strive to remember that God is enough.

Things will go wrong.  It will seem like evil prevails.  It will seem like we fail.   But in God is our complete sufficiency.  Let us totally rest in him.

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Filed under Faith, Malachi, Peace