In the Refining Fire of God

Proverbs 17:3 says, “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.”  Crucibles and furnaces serve to refine metal.  They must burn hot in order to do their job.  Heat refines the metal.

The author of this Proverb compares the Lord to a crucible or a furnace.  The Lord too burns with intense heat, and yet it is a heat no furnace could ever hope to match.  Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:9, Deuteronomy 4:24).  Why is it that he burns so hot?  It’s because the material on which he works is infinitely more precious than silver or gold – God works on the heart.  It’s also because the dross and impurity he will burn away clings with a tenaciousness no physical impurity of metal ever matched – God burns away sin.  Should we be surprised then when we encounter burning trials, even extended burning trials, that refine and test our very souls?  The obvious answer is, “No,” in fact, we should expect and even welcome such times.  It’s no surprise then that Peter writes this: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you…For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” – 1 Peter 4:12, 17.

Peter raises a sobering but glorious truth.  One way or another we will all experience the fire of God.  It will either come as his refining work in us – work that leaves us purified and ready for the courts of heaven – or as his eternal judgment on our unrepentant sin.  May we experience the fire of God in a life spent following Jesus, and not in eternity under the wrath of God in Hell!

A last point of encouragement for the Christian walking through our Lord’s refining furnace is this: Our God walks with us in the fire.  I think there is no better image of this truth than Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego enduring Nebuchadnezzar’s persecuting anger.  As these three literally fell into the fire, Nebuchadnezzar noticed they were not alone: “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?…But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:24b, 25).  As they walked through the fire of a petty tyrant, these men of faith experienced the protecting presence of God’s angel.  Should we expect any less when we walk through the refining processes that our Creator ordains for us?  God does not let his children walk alone in the fires that he designs for them to endure.  He goes with them…

Here’s a link to a song that you might appreciate relevant to Proverbs 17:3: “Though You Slay Me” by Shane and Shane.

Bethlehem First…Then Jerusalem

Recently I had the chance to preach from Luke 2:1-7.  One noteworthy aspect of Jesus’ birth is the fact that it occurred in Bethlehem, and not Jerusalem.  Of course, Bethlehem was the necessary location based on God’s prophetic word in Micah 5:2ff, but it was also a remarkably symbolic spot.  Birth in Bethlehem associated the kingly, divine, and messianic Jesus with his royal forbearer, David, but it did so in a particular manner.  Birth in Bethlehem associated Jesus especially with David’s humble beginnings as a shepherd, and not first with David’s later royal rule as symbolized in the City of David (see 2 Samuel 5:9).  David’s son, who is also David’s Lord, would be, like his ancestral father, a shepherd king marked by humility (Note: I’m helped in this paragraph by David Garland’s great Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – see pages 119-120).

Bethlehem Church of the Nativity
Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity
City of David
City of David (area to the lower right with green trees showing)

Now, what I find fascinating is the way this situation will reverse at Jesus’ second coming.  The Bible associates Jesus’ return not with obscure Bethlehem, but rather with royal Jerusalem (Isaiah 66:15-24, perhaps Ezekiel 40-48, Acts 1:9-12, Revelation 21-22).  If the baby Jesus came in association with David’s humble beginnings as a lowly shepherd, the man Jesus will return in association with David’s powerful reign.  We can debate whether the biblical view of Jesus’ return pertains at all to a physical Jerusalem (I for one think it probably does), but the symbolized message is clear no matter what: Jesus will return as the ruling sovereign of the universe.

North Toward Old City
Looking north up the Kidron Valley (Old City on the far left; Mount of Olives on the right)

Jesus will return as the king Shepherd and the ruling Savior.  When he does, may he find us to be delighted subjects!

Be Still…I’ve Got This Covered

I’ve been reading lately about the patterns of worship God prescribed for his people Israel – patterns of gatherings, feasts, and sacrifices as detailed in Leviticus, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  Today I’m struck by these verses from Exodus:

Exodus 34:21 – Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest.  In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.

 I assume here that plowing time and harvest are the two “peak periods” for a farming society.  They are the “all-hands-on-deck” seasons of work.  In our day and age, we might wonder at the very idea of resting during such a time.  Shouldn’t we work hardest during this period?  Isn’t this the time when the most money is to be made, or when there is the most unavoidable work to do?  And yet, it is precisely at such a point that God calls his people to rest.  He calls them to recognize, remember, and confess with their bodily action that he is the one who keeps and provides.  He calls them to remember that they can trust their most basic needs (like food, air, water) to him and him alone.

Granted, we don’t live under Mosaic Law, but Mosaic Law tells us still who God is and how he works.  It even gives us some inkling of how our lives in worship ought to reflect his character and ways.  So, let me ask this (for myself and all of you): How does God call us to rest, especially at plowing time and in harvest?

Exodus 34:23-24 – Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel.  For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.

 God required of Israel that all the males among the Hebrews appear before him three times annually (I think the text refers to males who have been weaned from their mother’s care, and probably even those who have reached the point of “manhood,” or accountability under the Law).  This meant traveling to the location where God made his name to dwell, represented by the presence of the Ark of the Covenant.  Eventually, it meant traveling to Jerusalem and appearing at the Solomonic temple.

Now, there’s only one problem with such an arrangement.  With all the men gone, what happens when the “bad guys” come?  Even if the women and children traveled with (as they likely did on many occasions…see the story of Hannah), what about the farms and belongings left at home?  And yet, for this God has an answer: “Leave it to me…I’ve got it covered.”  Notice how Exodus promises the Lord’s protection on his land, apparently with special concern during the times of annual corporate worship.

If nothing else, this promise from Exodus is a wide-open invitation to trust God; to trust him even with that which is most precious to us.  We can do what he asks no matter how risky it seems.  Not only can we do what he asks, but we must.  Indeed, how could we do anything but obey him?

Waiting On a Sanctified Mind…

If you read my previous post pertinent to the title of this site, then hopefully you’ll know why this line from Charles Spurgeon is so apropos: [Speaking of God] “That glorious right hand which moulded the world can new-create my mind…” (Morning and Evening: Daily Readings by C.H. Spurgeon – Evening, January 6th).  In other words, the hope and prayer that the title of this blog expresses is not a vain hope.  God will redeem and restore the minds of his children, just as he does every other part of our personhood.  In his book, Reformed Theology, R. Michael Allen says this: “…the redemption and sanctification of human reasoning has not been completed yet” (pg. 19).  Imagine what it must be like to comprehend God (not to mention one another and creation itself) with human reasoning that is fully sanctified.  I look forward to that day…

A Beginning…

Greetings!  If you’re reading this, you’re reading my beginnings as a formal “blogger,” though certainly not my beginnings as a formal and informal writer.  My desire for this site is that everything about it will glorify Jesus Christ – God, the Son of God, the crucified and risen Savior, the ruling King who will return at precisely the right time to judge and to gather his people.  Specifically, my hope is that Jesus’ church will be edified by the content of this page.  In particular, I hope that Jesus’ people who gather as Felton Bible Church (in Felton, CA) will find themselves encouraged, exhorted, informed, challenged, and changed by truth they might encounter here.  It is my privilege to follow Jesus in partnership and fellowship with my brothers and sisters at FBC.  Thus, it is they who remain uppermost in my mind.  That said, perhaps the Lord would be pleased to put this site to work in ways that extend beyond FBC.  Perhaps he might even be pleased to work for the salvation of some through this site.  May it be so Lord Jesus!

From the outset, let me explain the title of this blog – “Fix Your Mind.”  This title draws on Colossians 3:1-4, even as it reflects much of my own angst, difficulty, and struggle in following Jesus.  My greatest battles of faith and life occur in my mind.  By “mind,” I mean the deep part of myself that is the essentially spiritual link between a physical brain, a physical heart, and my real but intangible soul.  It is here that I feel my sinful brokenness most; here that I am earnest to experience God’s deep cleansing and sanctifying work, for his glory and my joy.  Thus, my title is a prayer; a cry to God that he would complete the good work he has already begun in me (Philippians 1:6).

But, this title is also a word of praise, an exhortation, and a proclamation of steadfast hope.  As broken as my mind all too often is, as burdened as it can become, my hope lies not in me, but in Christ.  Here is what Paul says in Colossians 3:1-4: If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  That’s amazing!  Because I am raised from the deadness of sin in Jesus, I can seek the things that are above; things pertaining to God, to life, to joy, to holiness.  Because I am hidden in Christ, I will, one day, enjoy a mind that is, like his, unhindered and unburdened by sin.  Because I am hidden in Christ and his perfect righteousness, I can, even now, pursue the holiness of mind without which no one will see God (Hebrews 12:14).  Thus, I seek to “set my mind” or “fix my mind” on Jesus.

As I conclude for now, I admit it…I am tweaking somewhat the English translation of Colossians 3 (in the English Standard Version) – from “set” to “fix” – but I trust you will allow me some literary license to do so.  Besides, “fix” might not be such a bad rendering of the Greek φρονεω after all.

Thank you for reading.  I’m committed to write as the Spirit intends and leads.  Come back in the future, and I pray you’ll be blessed in the coming!