Furnace People

The Furnace

“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.

Isaiah 48:10

“Once we have come through the ‘furnace of humiliation,’ desperately, fearfully clinging to Christ for all He is worth, then we are fully equipped to march into somebody else’s furnace.”

‘Blessed with Bipolar”

Becoming a real and authentic person starts with the responses that we’ve made in the presence of Jesus. Amazingly, this simple faith becomes the prerequisite, granting us the right to enter into the promises of the Lord. If you have those promises you may enter. However, without faith in those promises, you won’t find anything real.

You will not be able to handle the Kingdom of God unless you’re walking out of a life of brokenness and humility!

Furnace people will often recognize those without any real and tangible connection with God’s work. There are furnace promises, but many, without truly understanding will walk around in unreality. Often ‘they get religion.’ These are those who land on “the rocky soil.” They become ‘quasi-disciples’ who will do and say things that they really don’t really understand.

But furnace people have a connection to that which is honest and true. The Holy Spirit refuses to give up. These people can’t tolerate anything false or manipulative.  Their own hearts are being transformed by the fire, and it seems only then are qualified to minister God’s grace. Only furnace people can enter. You will know them by their scars.

The Church has a tremendous need for those who have withstood the furnace of humiliation.

After we endure its ugliness and its great evil, we’ll discover that we’re in an altogether different place than when we first started. The Church is waiting for those who went in and then come out on the other side. Again, the furnace of affliction will have done its work.

I was thinking today about Joseph, and his ordeal, as found in the Book of Genesis chapters 37-50.  He was a rare kind of person. Perhaps, one in a thousand. You may emulate but never exceed his faith. His confidence in the Lord was true and came from his lousy circumstances.

Furnace people have the ability to function gracefully at this particular stage.

Furnace people are sovereignly brought to a place where they can minister the grace of God into desperate situations. We must convince ourselves, that furnace people have a gift.  They have been through the worst.  They may be battered and bruised.  But they still stand.  We must look to those who are the gracious agents of a loving God.

Our brothers and sisters have carried the Word with wisdom and grace. They come to us, through the fire. But will we receive them?

My hope is that you will personally grasp what God has worked for you. That really is your truest calling.  The things good or bad, that have happened are part of how you’ll understand grace. He waits for you to respond.  Will you come to Him, through the grace you find in flames? The most gracious people you’ll ever meet are those who endured God’s furnace.

 “He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.”

Malachi 3:3

***

Looking Backwards

Luke 9:57-62

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus[g] said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

There’s to be no whitewashing the way of discipleship–there’s no glamour, no special recognition–no acclaim in it. I guess this is the “real” way of being His follower. The path Jesus has for me demands I give Him my whole heart. Heart enough to turn it all to Him. Heart enough to give Him total commitment.

Jesus seems to make it hard–we can see this in His responses to each prospective disciple. His statements to these possible followers seem harsh, difficult, and a bit “unreasonable,” but He doesn’t receive these men unless they do what He says.

Discipleship demands that we give up what we hold dearest.

What happened to these three “would-be” followers? Did they return home dejected and frustrated? To follow in Jesus’ footprints means we have to give up our personal agendas and turn our backs on what is closest and dearest. We must renounce everything, and give Him preeminence over all.

He must be our Lord, or we can’t follow Him.

These are hard verses with profound implications. But this passage is given to us for a reason. We dare not minimize what it means to be a disciple. We must grasp the plow with both hands, and we can’t look back. The plowman can never look back if he wants to make a straight furrow, and that’s the way the Kingdom works.

Those who follow Jesus realize that they fall woefully short. They start to realize that this path is going to take the grace of God. Every day we must take up the cross, and we must embrace that we’re loved. To be a disciple we need to become intimate friends with the Holy Spirit; He is both our ‘fuel’ and our guide.

“Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.”

1 John 2:6, MSG

We must obey our Lord. We’re to be intimately close to Him.

“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe.”

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Behold, The Hen of God!

havenlight.com

“How often I’ve ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you wouldn’t let me.” 

Matthew 23:37, Amplified

Scripture tells us that Jesus only wept twice. The first was at the tomb of Lazarus when he cried over the evil and destructive power of death. The second is here–the night before he was crucified, where he stood on the Mount of Olives–and wept over the city of Jerusalem.

The disciples saw the tears roll down His face.

Mother hens do not provide milk for their chicks, they simply aren’t equipped for that. Instead, they teach them by example–and occasionally hold food in their beaks until the little ones get the idea that they can scratch on their own. The yolk sack from the eggs they are hatched from will provide food for the first 72 hours–after that, they’re on their own.

The chicks will always return to their mother. They instinctively know who she is, it’s she that provides them with heat and shelter. You’ll see them snuggling up to mom, especially when the weather gets cold, wet–or for protection. The little chicks ‘automatically’ understand that she got what they need. They’ll always stay close to her.

There is no “magic force field” for the believer. We’ll face all the things that the unbeliever does, maybe even more–but he does cover, and lavishly provides the grace and peace that we need. Life can be brutal and nasty, there is no question about that.

“O God, have pity, for I am trusting you! I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until this storm is past.”

Psalm 57:1

The Lord will always protect his people. He’s deeply and intensely aware of us–he shields and provides everything we need. He covers us, keeps us, and protects us. We truly belong to him. He has adopted us as His own. We’re His sons and daughters, we are “family.”

“The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him, we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Romans 8:15

Do we really understand this? Do we really grasp the profound implications of his promises to us?

I have many questions (of course I do.) So why do we do the things our Father hates? Why do we bring him tears by the way we behave? Will we come to him at the first sign of “danger?”

When I’m threatened or challenged do I find shelter under the wings of God?

The city of Jerusalem was stubborn and unreceptive to His love–can I also resist him as well? Is my own hardness blocking His will? Do I ignore Jesus’ protective love?

“But let all who take refuge in You rejoice; let them shout for joy forever. May You shelter them, and may those who love Your name boast about You.”

Psalm 5:11

The Authority of the Lord Jesus Christ

“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”

John 7:16 (context, Vv. 14-24)

Spiritually, Jesus is superior to everything and everyone. All that he did in the Gospels revealed that salient fact–whether he was healing the sick, walking on water, or teaching the Sermon on the Mount, he had total command. An authority soaked all that he did, just like water saturates a sponge. (See Matthew 28:18.)

The Greek word most often translated as “authority” (exousia) in the New Testament basically means: “right, permission, freedom.” Jesus was completely free to do whatever he knew was the Father’s will–he had full and total authorization to do whatever he wanted. (That seems to be what his baptism was all about. See Luke 3:21-22.)

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

The Greek word “teach” (didaskō) in the NT means “give instruction, impart doctrine, to explain.” Jesus’ teaching was a marvel, he explained God’s kingdom to us crisply, succinctly, and precisely. All we need to understand was freely given to us in red letters. Everything necessary to us was taught with confidence and freedom. (See Matthew 7:29.)

Since Jesus perfectly combined the two words, both teaching, and authority, He could dictate to us everything we need, everything we must have, in straightforward terms. This can’t be stressed enough, the scripture we read–when ignited with the Holy Spirit, seems to be the only thing that can change the human heart.

The preceding verses in this passage reveal the setting for this statement.

  • Jesus stays out of Jerusalem because of the murderous hatred of the Pharisees.
  • There was a deep concern in his family who doubted Jesus’ timing and direction.
  • The origin of his teaching was questioned. He was speaking with the authority of the Messiah. Jesus completely understood the trustworthy source of his teaching.
  • There was a general consensus among the people of Jesus’ authority. Many were finally arriving at a decision in favor of him. Many would reject him.

We have never seen anyone of his impressive caliber, and we can only imagine the impact he was having on everyone he met. Under the Spirit’s direction, his disciples would retain all that Jesus did and taught. (The author of this passage was the Apostle John, and when you read his letters to us, we see that his memories were quite vivid.)

The Lord’s authority soaked all that he did, just like water saturates a sponge.

So what do we do now? What kind of “lordship” does he have over us? First of all, we learn (slowly) that we MUST teach ourselves to submit to our lord, constantly. He carries the authority we need, the authority human beings require. The Holy Spirit knows exactly how to pierce our pride and independence. Our teacher, comforter (and coach) understands us perfectly.

“His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us no other choice.”

-John Stott

To Leave Your Nets

Tools used to mend nets

“And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.”

Matthew 4:21, ESV

“And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Mark 1:18

To mend nets was tedious but necessary. You would take your net and spread it on the ground in an open space. Every knot would be carefully examined. All holes would be repaired. Nothing was overlooked. Fishing nets were painstakingly maintained. Every day, without fail.

Fish would school, and if your gear was right, and you were in a prime place, you could catch a lot. But simultaneously, you could let hundreds of fish escape through a hole in your net. Each fish that escaped meant money lost.

Jesus walking along the beach surveyed the boats and crews. Since most of these guys had worked through the night, they were tired and maybe a bit “punchy.” Some had gotten lucky, while others had little to show for working so hard. I suppose the different crews teased each other as they unloaded.

Jesus walked through the bunches of fishermen. He looked at their hauls to see what they had caught. But it wasn’t the catch He was looking at, it was the men. It was from these laboring fishermen that He would choose. These men were rough-and-tumble rednecks. If they had chewing tobacco back then, they would use it.

He looks, sees, and commands.

Now if you are looking for disciples– future apostles and leaders, the seashore is not the best place to recruit. They really have a rudimentary education. No theology, and just a meager understanding of Jewish ritual and religion. Essentially there was no time for them to think outside their occupation. Sure there just might be one, or two that possessed more, but that would be the exception.

But Jesus had no desire to interview them, and take the best of the lot. He didn’t have a Human Resources Department, and there were no tests and no forms that had to list references. He simply commanded, and those who understood followed. Only after they left it all did He get their names and addresses. I think that it is the same today.

Will we leave our boat, with your nets?

Really, you can keep mending or follow Him– it’s your choice. Most of the time though, decisions have a tendency to be irrevocable. Perhaps you have a moment, an instant of time to decide.

Sometimes mending nets can be back-breaking and tedious. But following the Lord Jesus is an unknown; too many choose to keep fixing their nets. Others though are launched into something new, and eternally significant.

The glaring truth is the necessity of obedience to Jesus’ command. There is no other voice we must hear. As a matter of fact, hearing (and really apprehending) is the only foundation we can trust to make our obedience true.

You can keep mending your nets and preparing for another night on the water. That is always your prerogative. But if you decide to follow you will need to leave what you know behind.

That is authentic discipleship.

“Rest in this – it is His business to lead, command, impel, send, call or whatever you want to call it. It is your business to obey, follow, move, respond, or what have you.”

-Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca Indians

Her Gorgeous Eyes

“You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling,
    as lovely as Jerusalem,
    as majestic as troops with banners.
Turn your eyes from me;
    they overwhelm me.

Your hair is like a flock of goats
    descending from Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep
    coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin,
    not one of them is missing.

Song of Solomon 6:4-6. NIV

Her beauty stuns him.

He’s completely overwhelmed and totally undone, he’s looking for words to describe her. He chooses metaphors that we really don’t get and descriptions that seem a little odd. But the emotions of the human heart haven’t changed.

Love is still love, and beauty is still beautiful. Even if our words have changed.

He chooses concepts that we understand–words like beautiful, darling, lovely and majestic. But we really don’t understand the nouns–Tirzah, Jerusalem, and troops carrying banners (and that’s just verse 4!) And yet that’s how he communicates his love to her.

But we do get verse 5, at least in the first half.

“Turn your eyes on me; they overwhelm me.” Love still does funny things to each one of us–but “eyes” still convey love. When we’re really in love we obviously see the outward, but true love sees the inward too.

I think that love can pierce the heart like nothing else.

Again, the descriptions are funny, and believe me–they get stranger–goats, smelly sheep, and having a mouthful of teeth!? And yet he carefully weaves these ideas that still have concepts that are vaguely relatable, but still, I have to admit, they are hysterical. If I tell my wife that her hair is like a “flock of goats” she is liable to punch me.

The metaphors may be outdated, but the ideas behind them are not. We still understand real-life concepts like beauty, love, and true sight. These are concrete–they still ring true today. Time has not diminished them. They are bedrock solid.

But notice, it’s the eyes that get him.

He sees her eyes, and that’s all it takes–they overwhelm him. A person’s eyes can often reveal the person that’s really inside, which is something we can’t really hide.

Can Jesus see your loving gaze?

The Song of Solomon lover sees her love, and I really believe that Jesus does see the love that a believer has for him. Often we make love a one-way deal. God loves me (John 3:16). That is true–I know that God loves me, that is indisputable. But, do we really ever return his love?! maybe, he’s overcome by my gaze at him? Is that heretical?

His descriptions are funny, and believe me–they do get stranger–goats, sheep, and a mouthful of teeth!? And yet he carefully weaves these ideas that still have concepts that are vaguely relatable, but still, I have to admit, they are hysterical. (If I tell my wife that her hair is like a “flock of goats” she is liable to punch me).

But notice, it’s the eyes that get him.

He sees her eyes, and that’s all it takes–they overwhelm him. A person’s eyes still reveal love and kindness, they can reveal the person that’s really inside, which is something we can’t really hide.

Can Jesus see your loving gaze?

(I want to change. Help me Lord Jesus!)

He sees her love, and I really believe that Jesus does see the love that a believer has for him. Often preachers make love a one-way deal. God loves me (John 3:16). That is true–I know that God loves me, that is indisputable. But, do we really ever return his love? Just maybe, he’s overcome by my gaze at him? Is that heretical?

Your Shepherd is Speaking

John 10:1-6, The Message

1-5 “Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you, know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice.”

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”

6 “Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about.

For context: 10:7-18

What joy can be found in our Shepherd’s care, and to hear his voice. Nothing really can match this wonder. We follow as he leads. The voice is an integral part of this passage and the foundation of authentic discipleship. You really can’t walk with him unless you hear him. We belong to him. We’re his flock that he keeps and provides for.

He knows our name! That’s the intimacy found in these verses. We’re never forgotten and he will never overlook us. To think otherwise is slander and an attack on his present-day ministry. Jesus is our good shepherd. He always will be.

“Intimacy with God comes in whispers, not shouts.”

     Woodrow Kroll

He sometimes whispers, and this world can’t hear him. To be perfectly honest, my ‘busyness’ silences him. I suppose that the real issue isn’t with him, but with myself.

“And after the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper.”

1 Kings 19:12

The gentle whisper to a man afraid. This fits the Father’s m.o. He doesn’t speak through a windstorm, earthquake, or fire. He chooses to speak very quietly, and that’s a problem for me. In the original Hebrew, the word for “whisper” can be translated as calm, silence, or something gentle. He speaks this way if only we shut up for a little while.

If we are to recognize God’s voice, we must belong to Him. We hear His voice when we spend time in Bible study and quiet contemplation of His Word. The more time we spend intimately with God and His Word, the easier it is to recognize His voice and His leadership in our lives(.

(Perhaps Psalm 23 should be brought in at this point?)

The flock hears the shepherd, and it’s that voice that breaks through our cluttered-up life. We can hear, and it’s that communication that encourages us to walk through life—one day at a time. Just today. That’s all you must do.

There are so many other voices. You must ignore them.

So many are speaking, and so many want us to hear and follow them. But in reality, they want us to leave the Shepherd and his flock behind.

But we can’t allow this, we must learn to listen to him alone.

(Art by Eugène Burnard)

Enjoy Your Pig Slop

“After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing.”

“So he got a job with one of the citizens there who sent the son into the fields to feed pigs. 16 The son was so hungry that he wanted to eat the pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

“The Prodigal Son,” Luke 15:14-16

God has a definite way of arranging things to get our undivided attention. The prodigal had blown through his inheritance money and now had nothing. And then there was this famine–a really bad one. (The word can be translated, as “violent.”) I think the Father was working.

Flat broke and having a need to eat, he started looking through the want ads for work. All he found was an ad for a “pig feeder.” That was it, there was nothing else to be had. So now began his new career in porcine agriculture! He was desperate and he was hungry.

A Jewish boy feeding pigs. Oh boy, how the mighty have fallen!

Verse 18 in this passage takes it a step further. As he poured out the slop the things he was feeding the pigs looked mighty tasty. His mouth began to water. He thought seriously about reaching into the trough and grabbing some of the good pods for himself. (Several days without food does funny things to a man.)

God does some interesting things to bring this prodigal home. Not all of them are pleasant and self-affirming. His circumstances got pretty brutal. He still allows hard circumstances to bring back the stupid. It’s very likely his soul was so valuable that this kind of intervention was necessary.

“When he realized what he was doing, he thought, ‘All of my father’s servants have plenty of food. But I am here, almost dying of hunger.”

(v. 17)

What happened at that precise moment of real repentance can be seen in the following translations of verse 17:

  • “he came to himself,”(King James Version and ESV)
  • “he came to his senses,” (Christian Standard Bible)
  • “he realized what he was doing,” (New Century Version)
  • “he turned again to himself,” (Wycliffe Translation)

That I suppose is the power of the trough. It’s a hard place to live.

The prodigal son is jolted by a very real revelation of home. And even though he grossly underestimates the love of the father, he leaves the pigs and returns. No longer does he have any desire to eat pig food.

Often the side effects of our own stubborn rebellion debase and shame us. It reduces a man or woman to a place of ruin and failure. We feel worthless and very much defeated. We know we’re a dirty rotten mess and we believe Satan’s infamous lies about our ‘impossible-to-forgive” sin.

The spiritual danger in self-degrading thoughts and feelings is that we will start to believe things such as, “God’s Holy Spirit can’t help someone like me” or “I’m helplessly addicted to sin” or even “I’m damned without any hope.”

These are some of the vicious lies Satan tells people to keep them in their sin and rebellion. (It has worked well for him over many millennia.) The enemy tells us that we’ll always live with the pigs, and eventually, over time, we will come to enjoy eating the pig slop. Sadly many accept that lie as the truth.

It is not.

God’s Holy Spirit is transformative and powerful; therefore, if we continue to think we are failures and worthless after receiving Spirit, what are we really saying? Do we doubt His power, or question His love? I hope not.

It’s time to come home.

“Because you have been down there Neo, you know that road, you know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.”

(“The Matrix”)

A Summons to War

battle

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake or weep tonight, and give your angels and saints charge over those who slumber.

“Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ, Rest your weary ones, Bless your dying ones, Soothe your suffering ones, Pity your afflicted ones, Shield your joyous ones,

And all for your love’s sake.”

Amen.

Augustine

Woven into this ancient ‘evening prayer’ is an idea of God meeting us with overflowing grace and kindness.  There is a strong sense of God watching everyone! And there is also a “tending” sense that He has overall.

As I read this prayer, I seem to focus on the single phrase, “shield your joyous ones.”  To think that these joyful people need protection strikes me as odd.  Why do they even need a “shield?”  Of all people, don’t they have it together?

God sees to our every need, and His flock can be incredibly needy.

As I thought it through, I started to realize that joy is its best standing in the shadow of warfare. The joyful ones are companions– “buddies” who share the same ‘fox hole’ on enemy lines.  But this isn’t a grim thing, Nehemiah told those trying to build the city walls,

“The joy of the Lord is your strength” 

Neh. 8:10

Joy connects with the desperate need of the moment; it is the muscle of all ministry.  And as a result, perhaps more vulnerable.

He didn’t say that the joy of the Lord is our happiness, cheeriness, or merriment. 

But rather, joy would impart strength, and stiffen one’s ability to go to war for our brothers and sisters, our churches, and our communities. There are certain epoxy resins that will only harden when a special light is used on them.  Maybe joy transforms into strength when we step toward our Father.

We need to spiritually protect and cover those who are His “joyous ones.”  They can be found sprinkled throughout our churches and ministries.  And they need us to shield them.  They seem to be quite exceptional, and seemingly invulnerable.  But that isn’t the case.  We need to pray for them. Joyful people inspire me in battle.

“The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.”

     Matthew Henry

Trying to Make Sense of the Incarnation

“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the incarnation. They say that God became man.”

C.S. Lewis

Incarnation, the central Christian doctrine that God became flesh, that God assumed a human nature and became a man in the form of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the second person of the Trinity.

Christ was completely God and fully man at the same time. This teaching is clear and I really can’t wrap my mind around it. Becoming man did not diminish God–if anything it was an addition and not a subtraction.

Now it’s true that Jesus voluntarily set aside all of the prerogatives of being God; He made the choice to lay His deity aside. Please think this verse through–let it sink into your hearts. It should be a mystery to you. It is to me.

“Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:6-8

God, Himself decided to make the manger His home. The woman who carried the baby in her womb was created by Him (that should rattle your teeth)!

When we see the implications of all of this–we can only worship, just like the shepherds did. We can only gift Him, just like the wise men. The Christmas story itself becomes our example of acknowledging what He’s done. We are now the worshippers and givers.

All of this is a profound miracle, and can only be accepted by a simple faith, a “Christmas faith.” There is so much I need to learn about all of this, but that’s alright.

Have a blessed Christmas dear one. Know deep down that He has come for you, He holds you and cares for you. He will never ever leave you!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com