Silver And Gold

As I read Proverbs Chapter 17 during my devotional time, God drew my attention to verse 3 which says, “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the LORD tests hearts.”

One of the many problems with what we call the church today, is that most of us never make it through the refiner’s pot.  Many never even make it to the pot itself.  Our Americanized version of Christianity implies that our relationship with Jesus should be at our convenience, completely unburdened by any personal sacrifice on our part because we are saved by grace, no strings attached.  But that is not what Jesus taught.  Jesus said that being His disciple would come at great personal cost to us.  That we must be willing to forsake all to follow Him:  our family, our children, our plans, our culture, and even ourselves, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26).  He said the crucifixion of our self would be required to follow Him and be His disciple, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27).

You see, when Jesus spoke to first century hearers of “carrying your cross”, what they heard was “you must carry an instrument of your own death….daily.”  This would not have been an attractive component of what Jesus’ teachings were calling them to do.  What Jesus was basically telling them was, “Follow Me to your own death, and I will give you new life, but that new life will cost you everything.”  At Luke Chapter 14, verse 28, Jesus tells His followers that they must count the cost to follow Him, then at verse 33 He tells them what that cost will be, “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33).  Notice that Jesus is not saying here that we must simply be willing to give up everything to follow Him.  He is saying that those who do not give up everything they have, cannot be His disciples.  Jesus calls His followers to a radical devotion that has been largely lost within what we call the church today.

For the most part, what I see in the church today, is a congregation of people who want to follow a Jesus that doesn’t require anything from them.  They want to follow a Jesus that would never place them in a refiner’s pot, much less, ever lead them into the furnace.  I see people comfortable in their commercialized version of Christianity, worshiping the Jesus that they are being taught about by other people, rather than the Jesus they are personally pursuing themselves through prayer and careful study of scripture.  For the most part, those within the church today are following someone else’s version of Jesus rather than the real Jesus of the Bible Who says things like, “He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes to make it even more fruitful.” (John 15:2).

I guess the question we must ask ourselves is, are we silver or are we gold?  Or are we just a branch that should be cut off because we are bearing no fruit for God with our life?  Are we a branch that is even willing to be pruned by the refining pot, so that the salvation we have received by His grace will be a fruitful branch for His kingdom?  The refining pot will come at a great personal cost, it will be painful, you will grieve the loss of many things that you never realized you were holding onto.  One of the hardest things God ever asked me to do was to let go of what I aspired to do for His kingdom and submit to what He aspired for me to do.  How many of us are truly willing to let go of everything, no matter how much we have reasoned in our heart to continue to hold on?  How many of us have convinced ourselves that we are approaching the cross with empty hands, as we ought, only to look down and see them holding on to something we are trying to bring with us?

As I meditated on the refiner’s pot versus the furnace, I realized how few people actually give themselves wholly over to Christ.  The refiner’s pot serves to prune a person, but the furnace utterly destroys them.  Pruned silver versus pure, untarnished gold.  The furnace leaves nothing of the old person remaining, everything is lost in the furnace, burned away into oblivion, leaving only a purified soul, flawless, whole and complete.  Our great aversion to the refiner’s pot should serve as an acute reminder of how desperately far away each of us are to the spiritual wholeness that comes by the furnace.  The refiner’s pot should remind us that no matter how righteous we think we are, there is always more work to be done in us.  As Christians, we should never be comfortable where we are at in our spiritual growth, but rather, we should long for the refinement that brings us to the spiritual wholeness that is promised by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The more you truly, personally know Christ, the more you will long for the refinement that comes at great personal cost.  The more you truly, personally know Christ, the more you eagerly anticipate, “the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:8).

“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the work of each will be evident, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will prove the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as one being snatched from the fire.” (1 Cor 3:12-15)

“These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:7)

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

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable.” (1 Cor 9:24,25)

Looking For Lovely

I taught a girls’ Bible study this summer called, “Looking For Lovely”. The gist of the Bible study was to look for and focus on the lovely things among our circumstances. The study focused on Romans 5:3-5 which says, Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” As I watched my Pastor–my friend, mentor and father figure– battle pancreatic cancer over this last year, I desperately searched for the lovely. I insistently banged on the door of heaven, asking God to explain Himself. I mulled over all the scriptural reasons for suffering, I pondered God’s motives, I examined His intent, as if God needed me to judge His work. In all this, I found nothing lovely. In all this, at every turn, there seemed to be only ugly.

I looked for purpose, but I found only suffering and pain. I sought understanding, but I only experienced doubt and frustration. My beloved Pastor went home to be with the Lord last Monday and it is now a week later that God has finally spoken. The whole time my Pastor battled cancer, I asked God what was the purpose of building his character through suffering if it was only going to lead to death? What was the purpose of refining his character if he wasn’t going to stay alive to share what he learned? God answered: It wasn’t Pastor’s character that was being built, it was the character of all those who loved him. God was building the character of all those who would continue their lives after our Pastor was gone.

Just like our Pastor poured out his life into ours while he was living– teaching us, mentoring us, praying for us– so would he be poured out in death, a final sacrifice unto God bearing the sweet aroma of Christ among those who are being saved… a fragrance that brings life.” (2 Cor 2:15,16) and “a sweet smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” (Phil 4:18). All those who loved our Pastor persevered in prayer and persevered in faith. Our prayers may not have been answered the way we expected or wanted them to, but our faith that God is still on the throne and is still perfect in holiness, love and justice, has persevered. Through faith, we are more than conquerors over every temptation we faced to succumb to doubt, anger, or frustration. We experienced all those things, yet they never prevailed over our faith.

It was hard for me to see any perseverance because I was too focused on the ugliness of the circumstances. It is so easy to fall into the temptation to judge God’s love for us based on our circumstances. But scripture tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, neither “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword..” (Rom 8:35). Jesus never promised us that we wouldn’t suffer, but He did promise that we would never be separated from His love.

We are told that the fruit of hope is the result of all the suffering, all the perseverance and all the building of character, “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (Rom 5:5). After all the suffering and persevering and building of character, we are left with hope and God’s love. We are left with the peace and assurance of our salvation and that one day very soon we will be with Pastor again. We are left with fulfilling the purposes of God by the power of His Holy Spirit Whom He has given us. We are left with only lovely.

Examining The Church Of Laodicea

In a previous post titled, “Fire And Brimstone”,  I discussed the church movement that has taken place over the last half-century to attempt to play-down the role of our sinfulness in the application of the Gospel. However, because our understanding of sin is utterly integral to the Gospel message of Christ, any attempt to separate sin from the cross results in preaching another gospel. It is this preaching of another gospel over the last half-century that has ushered us into the lukewarm Laodicean Church age.

Jesus’ Letters to the Churches in the Book of Revelation are to seven literal churches that existed at the time Revelation was written. However, a very common understanding of those Letters is that they also spoke to seven different “types” of churches that would exist from that time and throughout, until Christ’s return. And it is with that perspective that we see that the Laodicean Church would be the last church “age” before Christ’s return. Each church age would correspond to a definitive time period, yet some of each type would exist simultaneously. Meaning, although we may be in the Laodicean age, there are other church types that still exist during this age.

So, let’s open up our Bibles to Revelation Chapter 3, verses 14-22 and see what Christ has to say to us during this Laodicean age of the Church.

The first thing He says is, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.” (v. 15). The first thing Christ says to this church is that their faith is mediocre and they have no real passion. No passion about their salvation, nor for His word. They may have come to the cross, but they are still living in the world and are blinded by the things of the world. These are “middle-of-the-road” Christians.

Then He tell them, “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” (v. 16). Because of this church’s complacency in regard to their “works”— standing up for truth, seeking God through prayer, reading His word and living their lives according to that word– Jesus said that He would reject them. These words of our Savior should make every true believer sit up and take notice. Every human being who is saved in Christ should be deeply affected by these words. Jesus is not playing “church”, and neither should we.

Next, Jesus tells them, “Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,” (v. 17). The most heartbreaking thing about this whole situation, is that this group of believers think they are in right standing with God with their mediocre faith. The real passion in this church is for their own way of living, their culture and their own selfish desires and pursuits. For us today, that would be movies, television, music, fashion, holidays, our houses, cars, education– all the worldly things we are passionate about that bring us circumstantial satisfaction and temporal enjoyment.

But Jesus tells them that all of the things that have their attention most of the time, are an utter waste of time, and are worthless in comparison to the eternal things of God, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” (v. 18).

When He tells them to “buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich,” He is speaking of the refining “fires” of sanctification that all Christians must go through. We are saved by faith, but our souls are refined through the fires of obedience to God’s word (Eph 5:26; James 1:21; 2 Thess 2:13) and death to self. That is what Jesus meant when He said, If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matt 16:24,25).

One of the trademarks of this Laodicean church, is that an entire group of believers have come to the cross for forgiveness, without ever having truly repented. Or, perhaps they repented initially, but failed to understand that repentance, or “turning away”, is something we must do daily, throughout our entire lifetime. Without perpetual repentance, without daily “turning away” from sin and the things of this world, no real change happened on the inside of them. Or, what change that did occur, became stunted. In either regard, Jesus is telling them that they still need to undergo sanctification through the “fires” of refinement.

And it is that sanctification through the “fire” of refinement that will purify them in order that their garments may become “white”. Jesus is telling them that the way they are living their lives is making a mockery of His blood that was shed to deliver them from sin. He is also telling them that their utter lack of effort or cooperation toward any spiritual maturity is shameful and has left them spiritually naked, “…the shame of your nakedness..” and He advises them to buy “eye salve” so that they may see their actual spiritual condition, verses the image of the one they have comforted themselves with in their own mind.

No doubt these words of our Lord and Savior are harsh and even offensive to those who may be in this particular spiritual condition, however Jesus doesn’t apologize for His severe tone. Instead, He justifies His instructions to them by saying, Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” (v. 19). In essence, Jesus is telling them, “I love you enough to tell you the truth, even and especially when you don’t want to hear it, even though it hurts, even though it may seem harsh and cruel. But it is my genuine love for you that makes this revelation to you necessary.”

And because Jesus is a perfect Savior, He does not simply rebuke them and then leave them to wallow in discouragement. He tells them what they need to do to fix their situation: “be zealous and repent.” He gives them instructions that are simple and reasonable. He tells them to be more consumed with the things of His kingdom, rather than the things of this world. He tells them to be more passionate about His kingdom, His ways and His word, rather than their own kingdom, their own ways and the words of men. And He tells them to repent, to confess that they have sought the wrong things, been passionate about the wrong things, been distracted by the wrong things and to turn away from them. He is telling them to confess and admit that they have failed at making a genuine, consistent, faithful effort towards spiritual growth and to make the changes in their life that are necessary to put their spiritual growth on the top of their list of priorities, “be zealous”.

Then, because He loves them, He makes them a promise, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (v. 20). He tells them if they will heed and obey His word, then He will help them make the changes they need to make in themselves and in their lives. Indeed, it is the Holy Spirit that does the sanctifying work in us to help us more reflect the image of our Savior, but we must cooperate. God will not change a person against their will, and when we are distracted by the things of this world and by our emotions and our circumstances, very little cooperation takes place. And when we spend little to no time in prayer and fellowship with God and in His word, any cooperation on our part grinds to a standstill.

Lastly, Jesus makes them another promise, one that is filled with hope and a future, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (v. 21,22).