Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading onlineHere are some thought-provoking reads discovered recently.

What Does a Christian Need to Grow? HT to Challies. “Conferences abound – they’re good aren’t they? – and there are all the worthy books you might read, they’re surely helpful? Some people are into blogs and podcasts too. Such vital media are surely valuable, are they not? But, honestly, no. Not ‘no’ as in, they’re not valuable. All these things might be valuable. But no, you don’t need them to grow.” I love back-to-basics posts.

Was That Worship? HT to Challies. Nostalgia or emotion might be part of worship, but are not worship in themselves.

Should We Legislate Morality?

Christians Don’t Need the Black Lives Matter Movement to Defeat Evil, HT to Proclaim and Defend. Before you react to this one, let me say that I was hesitant about posting it because the title and some of what it says is polarizing. But, whatever specific points we might agree or disagree with, the most important, and the reason I am sharing this, is that some are encouraging Christians to follow a movement instead of living out their Christian faith. In past decades it was Christians who led the fight for abolition and civil rights. “The idea that the gospel is not enough to defeat evil is a belief that could severely hamper the work of the Kingdom. Thankfully, the history of the last two centuries is enough to prove otherwise.” Also, while I believe, as this author does, that Black lives do matter, I didn’t know until a few weeks ago that there is an organization by that name with which I would not agree. Christians attending peaceful marches and protests are fine, but not in place of the gospel and Christian principles. And, as I said before, we do need to listen and acknowledge and learn.

Are Churches “A Major Source of Coronavirus Cases“? No, despite some headlines. We need to exercise discernment when we read the news. (In today’s post, Tim Challies notes that the headline has been changed to the more accurate and less provocative “Churches Were Eager to Reopen. Now They Are Confronting Coronavirus Cases.”)

40+ Free Virtual Vacations Your Kids Will Love, HT to The Story Warren. With vacation plans nixed due to COVID-19, here are some ways to explore areas you might never have the opportunity to see in person.

Amazing Chalk Art by a 14-year-old, featuring her brother. HT to The Story Warren. At the end is a list of links of fun things to do at home.

This is one Welsh church’s humorous rendition of how things would work when their church reopened after the lockdown. Probably whatever they actually did would seem much better after viewing this. 🙂 HT to Steve Laube.

Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading onlineHere are some of the great reads I discovered this week:

How to Disagree Better about COVID-19, Conspiracy Theories, and Pretty Much Everything Else in Life.

The Cure for a Lack of Fruit in Our Christian Lives, HT to Challies.

5 Ways Christians are Getting Swept into a Secular Worldview in This Cultural Moment. HT to Proclaim and Defend.

The American Soviet Mentality, HT to Challies. I hadn’t made the connection between today’s cancel culture and what they used to do in the Soviet Union, but now that I’ve read this, the similarities are striking and scary.

How to Bear Up Under Your Burdens.

Getting Practical: How to Host a Middle Eastern Friend, HT to Challies. These are useful tips if you have the opportunity to host someone from the Middle East.

11 Transcendent Moments of Movie Music. “Wordless music in a film often speaks more to us than all the words of the script. Why? I think it’s because music in general is a language with mysterious communicative potential.” I enjoyed this a lot. I haven’t seen all the movies listed here, but would like to check out some of them now. And with that, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite pieces:

Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading onlineHere are some great reads collected in the last couple of weeks.

How to Be Refreshed by Opening Your Bible.

It’s Time to Conquer that Midyear Bible Reading Slump. What a great idea to revisit the plans we made for Bible reading back in January. Michele suggests several great resources.

A Statement About Statements, HT to Challies. I appreciate the difficulty of being expected to come up with a statement on issues while still processing them.

We Need Rainy Times, HT to Challies. “We all love the sunshine, but the Arabs have a proverb that ‘all sunshine makes the desert.'”

I Know a Place, of justice, righteousness, mercy, grace, and more. HT to Challies.

Dear Worthless Cockroach, HT to Challies. “Is there anything about me (as myself, as the person I am apart from God’s saving grace) that is actually worthwhile or lovable? Am I just a worthless, sinful cockroach that God has chosen to love? And if so, am I wrong to feel bad or uneasy about this? To feel (as I sometimes do) that underneath everything, I really am pretty worthless and unlovable?”

The Exchange of Pleasures, HT to Challies. “Achieving a fitness goal and killing sin both happens through the exchange of pleasures.”

Pluckers. Proverbs 14:1 in the KJV says, “Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” I enjoyed this post about ways we might unwittingly be “pluckers.”

A Cake on the Back Seat, HT to to Challies. “Dear sister, don’t underestimate your voice, especially when many others do. In speaking wisdom to us, reminding us of cakes being carried on back seats, you carry with you the spirit of Abigail as she rode out in 1 Samuel 25.”

Ten Questions Missionaries Love to Answer, HT to to Challies.

From Camping To Dining Out: Here’s How Experts Rate The Risks of 14 Summer Activities, HT to Lisa.

Giant List of Indoor Activities for Kids, HT to Story Warren. With playgrounds and restaurants closed and play dates off the calendar, this is good if you need some fresh ideas for the kids.

The Elisabeth Elliot.org site has gotten a complete overhaul in order to put the writings of Elisabeth, Jim Elliot, and their daughter, Valerie Elliot Shepard all under one “roof.” I miss “Ramblings from the Cove” that Elisabeth’s third husband, Lars, used to write, and I hope they include a word from him sometimes.

And finally, this was pretty clever. HT to Steve Laube.

Happy Saturday!

How do you know if God is displeased with you?

How to know if God is displeased with youAs I skimmed through Twitter recently, I saw a tweet from someone I didn’t know who asked, “How do you know if God is displeased with you?”

I didn’t have time to read all 60+ responses, but I scrolled through several. I was astonished to see that no one appealed to the Bible or prayer.

One mentioned a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach. Another cited a vague uneasiness. One said that everything going wrong in life was a sure sign of God’s displeasure. But those can all be caused by any number of things.

God uses our consciences to convict us sometimes, but conscience has to be trained. Some people have no conscience about cannibalism or genocide. Others’ consciences trouble them over every little thing.

So how do you know if God is displeased with you?

Ask Him. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Read His Word. There He tells us what’s right and wrong. Of course, we have to be careful to read in context, consider who is saying what to whom, and interpret it with some common sense principles.

Paul says, “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7b). The Bible gives us the ten commandments (Exodus 20), a list of things God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19), lists of things to put off and put on (Ephesians 4:17-32), the difference between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26), as well as other instructions.

The Bible doesn’t just tell us what not to do: it also tells us what we should be doing. So we could also displease God by failing to do good in some area.

The more we read the Bible and grow in the Lord, the more we grow in our understanding. For instance, we might read early on that we shouldn’t steal. That seems pretty straightforward: don’t take anything that belongs to someone else. Then later we realize that if we goof off on the job, we’re stealing from our boss the work he has paid us for. Then even later we come across Ephesians 4:28: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” We realize that not stealing isn’t an end in itself: we need to replace theft with honest work not only to provide for ourselves, but to help others.

Besides general right and wrong, the Bible shares some specific things that God is pleased with:

Faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” Hebrews 11:6).

Fear (reverence): “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:11).

Spiritual sacrifices: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15-16).

Obedience: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). Wait a minute—I just mentioned sacrifices were pleasing to God, and now I am saying they are not? The sacrifices in this verse were part of the OT system of worship. Too often people fell into religious ritual without their hearts being in it (we still do that, though our rituals are different). God was saying through Samuel that it doesn’t do any good to perform religious rites without obeying Him. That’s the height of hypocrisy.  But the spiritual sacrifices that please God, mentioned above in Hebrews, were ministry to others at cost to ourselves from a heart of love and worship of God.

Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). “And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29). Jesus is more than just an example, but God does want us to listen to Him and live like Him. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

One problem with trying to please God is that we can’t in our flesh.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:5-8).

That’s dire. What’s the remedy?

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:9-11).

How does that happen? When we believe on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and turn from our sin and trusting in ourselves or anything else, Jesus and the Holy Spirit live within us. Jesus lived a perfect life of righteousness, which we could never do. He took our sins on Himself on the cross, so that when we repent and believe on Him, He puts His righteousness on our account.  We could never be good enough on our own to please God. Even if we could from this moment forward, we have a past of not pleasing God. The only way He can be completely pleased with us is through Christ.

We can be saved in a moment. But then it takes a lifetime to grow in grace and Christlikeness. One former pastor used to say that “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) meant not to work for salvation, but to work it out like a math problem: take all those lofty truths and principles and work them into your everyday life.

But we do stumble and fail. When we believe in Christ, God becomes our Father.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).

Over and over in the Bible, God is described as longsuffering, slow to anger, merciful, ready to forgive, ready to help. If our heart is with Him and our desire is to walk with Him and do His will, we don’t need to walk around with a vague feeling of spiritual uneasiness. As a loving Father, He will show us right from wrong, forgive us when we fail, and enable us to live for Him.

But some walk in blatant disregard of the Bible yet think God is well-pleased with them. Or they think they know who God is and what the Bible says, but they’re misinformed. We shouldn’t be presumptuous. How we need to read His Word, come to Him with a humble spirit, and seek His grace to live for Him.

Early in my Christian walk, I probably had more of that vague uneasiness that something was wrong spiritually. A former pastor used to say that when we come to God and ask Him to search our hearts, then we wait and deal with whatever He brings to mind. He likened it to opening a box, dealing with what’s there, opening another box, until there are no more boxes—nothing else that God brings to mind. I still do that sometimes. But now, after 45 years of reading His Word and walking with Him, usually conviction is immediate. Often, right after I do or think something wrong, God will remind me of what His Word says about what I just did or thought. Then I try to immediately ask His forgiveness. But it’s still good to ask Him to search our hearts in case we’re overlooking something.

Sometimes it takes a while to sort through whether we’re feeling false guilt over a man-made principle that goes beyond the Bible. But the more we read His Word and walk with Him, the more familiar we’ll be with what pleases and displeases Him.

 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:20-21).

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul,
Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesday,
Let’s Have Coffee, Heart Encouragement, Faith on Fire,
Grace and Truth,
Blogger Voices Network)

 

Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading onlineHere are some great reads collected in the last couple of weeks.

Women Wielding the Word.Such a good post by Sue on maintaining a habit of meeting with God in His Word. “I figure if I can’t give God five minutes anytime on any given day, I’m not taking Him and our relationship seriously.” ” We don’t worship the habit – that’s a rope on our necks instead of an anchor to our souls. God’s not interested in my checking off boxes in His name. I don’t worship the habit, but habits help me worship.

More and More, HT to Challies. I think many of us can identify with Glenna’s discouragement at not being more Christlike. “I’m beginning to think that when we’re most discouraged by our sin, God is working something good. The more we see it, the more He helps us to fight it.”

One Way to Build Your Trust Muscles, HT to Maree. “But if you’re looking for ways to strengthen your trust muscles for the days ahead, now might be a good time for you to start gathering up some stones from your past too.”

The Two Paths Out of Trials, HT to Challies.

The Right Response to the Old Testament Law. “Some struggle to understand how these laws reflect divine love and noble character. But this should not be surprising since we live at such a vast distance from that culture. If we want to see how the laws are just and fair and good, we need to study not only the laws, but also the context in which they were given”

Thankful for God’s Good Gift of Government. Our church has read through Ezekiel and Daniel in the past months, and one truth that comes through those books loud and clear is that God works behind, in, and through governments. That doesn’t mean they are always right. But he does call us to obey and honor them unless they contradict His commands.

5 common triggers for highly sensitive people, and 5 antidotes to help them survive social distancing by Anne Bogel, HT to Linda. This fits me to a “T” and was a good reminder. And a reassurance that I’m not the only one.

On Christians Spreading Corona Conspiracies: Gullibility is not a Spiritual Gift, HT to Linda. “God has not called us to be easily fooled. Gullibility is not a Christian virtue.” “Spreading unproven speculation is bearing false witness.”

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Tragedies of COVID-19, HT to the Story Warren.

The Worst Rebrand in the History of Orange Juice, HT to Challies. “Don’t let beautiful design distract from what’s important: Communicating the right information to your customer at the right time.” Yes! I hate when products undergo a major rebranding that’s artsy but doesn’t tell me what I need to know at first glance.

Of Stuck-ness and Sustaining Books. I loved this—partly because Pooh was a beloved character at our house, partly because of the scene Disney left out, and the comfort of “sustaining books” and kindness.

Mincaye Is Now With Jesus. Many of you are familiar with Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and the other missionaries who were speared to death by the tribe they were trying to reach in Ecuador in 1956. Their story has been dear to me since I first read Through Gates of Splendor in college, and I have read much about the men and the families since that time. Mincaye was one of the killers of the men who later came to the Lord and became a grandfather figure to Steve Saint’s kids. Mincaye just passed away this week. Steve Saint’s tribute to him is here.

Finally, I loved this attempt at a professional video with a toddler “helping,” especially the end. The comments are fun, too. I am not sure if the video will show up in Feedly or emails: if not, you might need to click through to see it.

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

Here are a few of the good reads that caught my eye lately:

I Was a White Supremacist, HT to Challies. What struck me about this, besides the dramatic change wrought in the heart of the writer, was the fact that a group of women  prayed for that change for two years after hearing about him in the news. Would that we would do that more often.

Do We Play Any Role in Our Sanctification?, HT to Challies.  “The battle image is a very active image. Soldiers in battle are not passive observers. They’re not sitting there watching life go by. They’re as actively engaged as anybody could be in any activity. So, too, we are called to be actively engaged in sanctification. It is our great calling to pursue holiness, to aspire to that for which God has called us, and to strain every effort that we have.”

Reasons to Go to Bible Study. The schedule hasn’t always worked out for me to go, but when it has, it’s been so beneficial.

Younger Pastors and Senior Adults, HT to Challies. Excellent perspectives of older folks and ways to minister to them and involve them in ministry.

I wish . . .When we envy someone’s blessings, do we want the trials that led to the blessings as well? Probably not.

5+ Questions to Ask a Visiting Missionary at Dinner, HT to Challies.

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. I have no closing pictures or videos today, but there are plenty of good ones here!

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

I have another short but noteworthy list today:

Don’t Trust in Your Christianity, HT to Challies. “I’m afraid many find themselves in a similar predicament of pretense after growing up ‘Christian,’ developing ‘Christian’ habits, and embracing ‘Christian’ ideals—all without any real knowledge of the truly narrow road that leads to eternal life.”

Skillet’s John Cooper on Apostasy Among Young Christian Leaders. I don’t know this person, but I was fascinated by this article a friend linked to on Facebook. I think he’s right. “It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion. And what we are seeing now is the result of the church raising up influencers who did not supremely value truth who have led a generation who also do not believe in the supremacy of truth. And now those disavowed leaders are proudly still leading and influencing boldly AWAY from the truth.”

Most Growth Will be Slow Growth, HT to Challies. “We are just plain tired. Tired of daily self-denial. Tired of taking two steps forward and one step back. Tired of walking on a road that feels endless, toward a city we cannot see. Disillusioned and exhausted, many sit down on the path, not sure if they will get back up again. Why does the slowness of our sanctification come as a surprise to so many of us?” This is something I have wrestled with and very much needed to hear.

How Not to Fall Away, HT to Challies. “[Paul] mentioned Hymenaeus and Alexander who had blasphemed and ‘concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck’ (1 Tim. 1:19-20). What a terrible image. But Paul wasn’t exaggerating. He had been shipwrecked (2 Cor. 11:25). He knew that apostasy was no less tragic than the sinking of a vessel on which people’s lives depended.”

Finally, this cracked me up at first, but then seemed poignant. A lot for a short video to convey! The comments on YouTube with different people’s interpretations was interesting, too.

Happy Saturday!

Press on toward the goal

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There is a tension in life between satisfaction with where we are and the need to grow in various areas. Coaches encourage and applaud athletes’ efforts and milestones while still pressing them to do more and do better. Parents celebrate and reward good grades and bolster their students for the next test or project. Performance reviews acknowledge an employee’s strengths and successes, but they also note areas where the employee needs to grow and improve. A wise coach, parent, teacher, supervisor, or mentor has to constantly seek balance, avoiding the stance of a slave-driving task-master who is never satisfied with anything less than perfection on one hand and that of the indulgent grandmother who never sees a fault on the other hand. And we need to seek that same balance with ourselves.

I see some of this same tension in the Bible, particularly Paul’s epistles.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, Paul writes, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.”

Paul prays that the Philippians’ “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9).

In Colossians, Paul proclaims: “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (1:27-29). Christ is in those of us who believe in Him, yet there is a sense in which we grow in maturity in Him.

In Philippians 3, Paul acknowledges that he’s still in a state of growth and hasn’t reached perfection yet. We often use his statement in verse 13, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” as an encouragement to forget the sins and failures of the past. But what Paul is setting aside in that passage is his past laurels (verses 4-11).

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV).

Our righteousness comes by faith in Christ, not our efforts. Our own efforts could never measure up. Yet there is still a “straining forward” toward growth in maturity.

Sometimes perfectionists can be thoroughly discouraged that no matter how much progress we’ve made, we’ll never get to the point where we don’t have something to work on. But we won’t be perfect until we reach heaven. Part of Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:11 is that we may “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Galatians 5:22-23 speaks of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” That fruit comes from God. But fruit also conveys the idea of growth. And growth takes time.

On the other hand, some of us are prone to inertia. “Good enough” is sufficient for some ares of life. I once heard of someone who boasted that when she made the bed, the sheets were stretched so firm and tight that a quarter could bounce off them. And I thought, “Whatever for?” I’m all for a neatly made bed, but a good-enough made bed falls far below quarter-bouncing standards for me. But “good enough” isn’t sufficient for spiritual growth.  We need that prodding to keep pressing on.

In recent years it’s become common to read of our “mess” in an effort to be transparent and authentic. We’re not perfect and we shouldn’t try to put forth a false perfect image, so we need to pull back the curtain and let people see our flaws and failures. And there’s truth in those thoughts. We can more readily identify with someone who doesn’t seem to have it all together all the time. Yet it’s easy to go so far as to glory in our “mess” instead of progressing.

Or we can feel that the progress we’re making in most areas offsets the areas we’re struggling with. We all have our besetting sins, after all. One son once got upset that I pointed out the one area of his report card that needed attention instead of being satisfied with the rest of commendable grades. While I needed to remember to acknowledge the good grades, I couldn’t overlook the bad one.

While fruit in our lives comes from God, He also calls us to pursue wisdom (Proverbs), love (1 Corinthians 14:1), righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11), peace (2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Peter 3:11).

Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” We’re made perfect in Christ when we believe on Him for salvation. But while we live here on earth, we still have our old nature, which fights against the new one we received at salvation (Galatians 5:16-17). That process of growth toward Christlikeness is called sanctification. Romans 12:2 tells us we’re transformed by the renewing of our minds, and one way we do that is by changing our thinking, lining it up with what God’s Word says, putting specific Scriptures in our minds that the Holy Spirit can then use to remind us.

The standard the Bible continually points to is Christ. We’ll never be Christ. But we don’t rest in self-satisfaction with how we’ve grown over the past ten years or how far we are compared to others: we grow towards His likeness. Yet we will stumble and fall, and we extend grace to ourselves while still making progress. II Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” As we behold Him in His Word, He changes us to become more like Him.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV).

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Titus 2 Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

Smelting the Soul

Photo courtesy of alejandro godoy at pngtree

Perhaps you’ve heard this old illustration, as I often have. When metalworkers need to refine metals, they melt them down and then have to skim off the dross, impurities, and other metals until the product is pure. The actual process has changed over the years, but it still involves smelting, separating, and removing impurities. We’re told that the way the refiner knows that his product is pure is when he can clearly see his face reflected in the liquefied metal.

All my Christian life I have heard this refining process as an illustration of God’s sanctifying us.

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts. Proverbs 17:3

Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel. Proverbs 25:4

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. Isaiah 48:10

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Malachi 3:3

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. Job 23:10

The refiner’s skill in applying just the right temperature illustrates God’s skill in adjusting our trials at just the right level. Too little “heat” might upset us but not purify us: too much might discourage or destroy us. The impurities or mixtures of other metals speaks of our need to be cleansed and purified from various sins and divided loyalties. The melting liquid shows our need to yield to the process. And since God’s goal in our sanctification is that we become like His Son, the refiner’s seeing his reflection in the melted metal is a beautiful illustration of our God’s refining and purifying us until we’re conformed to the image of His Son.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Corinthians 3:18

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. Romans 8:29a

These parallels have been a blessing in considering the process and end goal of God’s sanctifying work in my life.

But one particular aspect that I had not considered much before blessed me in a big way last week.

I’ve mentioned before that I am sometimes discouraged at my lack of love, my innate selfishness, and I often pray to be more loving. I know that the struggle between the Spirit and our flesh is a lifelong one that won’t end until we’re in heaven. Yet it seemed like, after around 45 years of being a Christian, I should be further along than I am now, and it should be less of a struggle.

But since that struggle doesn’t end until heaven, we’re going to continue to have our impurities brought to our attention. And that’s a good thing – not that we have them, but that they come to the surface so we can deal with them by confessing them to the Lord and seeking His grace to overcome them.

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Proverbs 28:13

When I first became a Christian, I was convicted of a lack of love and a need to be more unselfish in some areas. But they were probably big, obvious areas. The more I grow in the Lord, the more He makes me aware of smaller, deeper areas, like a harsh thought as well as harsh words.

The refining process is an answer to my prayer to be more Christlike and more loving. I can’t be more loving until I see the ways in which I am unloving. I can’t turn from selfishness until I see the ways my selfishness displays itself. I can’t grow more like Christ until I see the ways I am not yet fully like Him.

So instead of being discouraged that God continually shows me the ways in which I fall short, I can rejoice that He is continuing to refine me. And I praise Him for the grace that washes away all sin.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

Still a sinner though a saint

I was in an unfamiliar grocery store that happened to be on my route home, just to pick up a few things, a bit agitated trying to find what I needed in a store with an unfamiliar layout. I found the bagged salads not at an eye-level shelf like I am used to, but on a lower one, so I was bent over, head deep in the produce bins, looking for the freshest pre-made salad. All of a sudden a head appeared right next to mine and a cheery voice asked how I was doing today. I did not immediately think, “Oh, how lovely, this sweet stranger is concerned about my well-being!” Instead I thought, “How absurd!” But I mumbled, “Fine.” The head disappeared but must not have heard me: in just a second or two, it appeared again next to mine, again asking how I was doing. I muttered “Fine” in a definite “I don’t want to be bothered tone,” and the head disappeared.

I found my salad, but my conscience was smitten. Later I saw the woman who had been trying to greet me. She had a rolling cart and some kind of device in her hand, and I found other people in the store with the same apparatus, so I guessed they were doing inventory. She had her back to me, so I didn’t apologize like I should have: I scurried away, shamefaced.

I don’t know if this woman was just extra friendly or if she was trying to be an enthusiastic employee by greeting customers in odd places. I think some stores have tried to put forth a more friendly atmosphere by requiring their employees to cheerily greet any customers within ten feet of them. I don’t mind that in a natural setting, like when I enter the store, or when we pass each other in an aisle. But I have been called to across a large expanse of the store, or interrupted while intently reading a label by someone behind me asking if I am finding everything, or greeted at odd times or in awkward situations by someone inserting themselves unnaturally. I know it’s better to have too much help than not being able to find a salesperson when you need one, and it’s better to have cheerful help than grumpy help. But it’s possible to overdo it.

Some time back a friend shared about how smiling in response to someone at a store led to a nice conversation and a brightened day for all involved. My snippy reaction, unfortunately, probably had the opposite effect.

I have been convicted again and again about my innate selfishness, my preference to withdraw into an introvert bubble rather than to extend myself, my too-quick tendency to irritability, my need to be more loving. I have been a Christian for over 40 years. Shouldn’t there be more progress by now? Shouldn’t I have gotten past some of this by now?

A passage from Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley (linked to my review) helped me in this regard:

Once you come to Christ and receive that cleansing of conscience, does conscience now fall silent? Quite the opposite! Christians are surprised and sometimes discouraged to find that the condemnations of conscience are even stronger after becoming a child of God. Perhaps you, too, have had thoughts like this: “If I am making progress towards holiness with the help of the Holy Spirit, why do I keep feeling like a worse sinner than before? Becoming a Christian was supposed to relieve my conscience. What’s going on?”

We shouldn’t be surprised when this happens. The moment God accepts you as his child, he gives you the greatest gift he could ever give a child of God: his Holy Spirit to dwell in you. The Holy Spirit comes in to encourage you, comfort you, and be your dearest friend. But he also comes in to reveal to you any sin that is robbing you of joy and to lead you into mortal combat against that sin (Rom. 8:13-14).

When the Holy Spirit comes in, he supercharges your consciousness of sin by writing his laws on your heart (Jer. 31:33-34). He opens your eyes to see sins that you didn’t even know were sins, like pride, greed, and covetousness. He reveals to you all the little idols in your heart’s idol factory. As you read the Bible every day, you see more and more how good and holy God is and how filthy you are.

Don’t expect this struggle to get any easier as you mature in your faith. The war against indwelling sin only grows stronger…

There is generally a proportional relationship between how mature you are as a Christian and how aware you are of your sinfulness. The more you grow by means of grace, the more sensitive you become to your sinfulness. Paul himself increasingly realized his sinfulness: he referred to himself as “the least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9), then “the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8), and finally, the “foremost” of “sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Like Paul, you are growing in holiness every day. But you may not feel like it! You’re a saint and a sinner at the same time.

That explains why a Christian often feels so wretched. But then what? If the gap between what we should be and what we really are keeps growing, how can we possibly escape complete despair in the Christian life?…

Only an ever-increasing trust in Christ’s work on the cross can fill this ever-widening gap and keep us from despair. God’s solution for us to have a clean conscience throughout our lives is simple and profound: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)…

Now we can confidently approach God on the basis of Jesus’s definitive work on the cross. Now we can have a “clear conscience” (Heb. 13:18) (pp. 47-51).

None of us is a saint via sinless perfection or exalted religious experience, but the New Testament calls all true believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior saints. Most of the epistles are addressed to the saints at particular locations. My sin nature won’t be completely eradicated until I get to heaven. That doesn’t mean I can sit back and relax about it or excuse my bad conduct: quite the opposite. I’m to daily seek God’s help and grace to fight against it. As I am in His Word and continue to grow in Him, He will point out more and more of my sinfulness that I am unaware of. So I confess that to Him, and then seek Him for more grace to grow more. I look forward to the time when all sin will be put away, but until then, my sin nature will keep reminding me of my need of Him, and hopefully I will continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Writer Wednesday, Coffee For Your Heart, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)