Dough, Dirt, and Coal

 “You mean, God allowed this to happen to me? Why didn’t He stop it? Or why didn’t He at least make it a little less painful?”  Ever been guilty of asking those questions?  I confess: I’m guilty! 

Sometimes bad things come into our lives because of our own poor choices.  God forgives our sin when we confess it but He still allows the  consequences to come.  What an effective teacher consequences can be!  Sometimes, however, God may actually bring a trial or hardship upon us or allow someone else’s poor choices to affect us. Why?  Not being God, I couldn’t say; but knowing God, I can say with confidence that He has a definite purpose in doing so and that it’s for our good.

What could His purpose be? How could it be for our good?  To understand, let’s look at 3 illustrations.

 

dough

  • Bread
  • First, dough.  Dough rises as it fills with air bubbles.  If baked at this point, the loaf would be uneven, deformed, filled with holes, and covered with wart-like bubbles. It might smell good and taste okay but, being an unsightly mess, few would be compelled to eat it.  So to get the air bubbles out, the baker has to punch the dough down, knead it and fold it over and over — actually treating the dough quite brutally — until it’s smooth, elastic, and rises evenly.  The dough is better but it’s still fairly useless.

The baker, however, knows just what to do:  He places the dough in an oven and turns up the heat!  He knows just the right temperature and just the right amount of time to leave the dough in that hot environment.  The result? A delicious, aromatic, life-sustaining loaf of bread.  And who can resist a slice of that?

 

drought

fertile garden

Second, dirt.  Dry, barren land becomes as hard as rock and good for nothing but walking on.  It draws no animals, hosts no plants, and decreases in value.  The farmer, however, knows just what to do: He comes at it with a hose and a tiller!  He applies water to soften the ground and then tills it, first breaking it into large chunks and then into smaller and smaller pieces.  At this point, the hard, dry ground has only changed into soft, wet dirt.  It’s still not ready to receive seed. 

So the farmer pours on a lot of stinking stuff!  Too little fertilizer leaves the soil undernourished; too much, however, will “burn” the soil.  Not to worry: the farmer knows the exact amount needed.  The result?  Lush, fertile soil that’s ready for seed!  Such soil has the ability to produce abundant crops and, thus, to nourish thousands!

 

Coal

beautiful_diamond

 

Finally, coal. Coal is a black, messy ore.  Everywhere the coal touches it leaves behind a dirty smudge. But under pressure — intense pressure — the chunk of coal becomes a diamond in the rough!  And a rough diamond is more desireable than a lump of coal, right?  Yet even then, the coal has not reached its full potential.

The jeweler, however, knows just what to do: He comes at it with a cleaver! After cleaving the large stone into smaller pieces, He places 2 rough diamonds on a lathe in such a way that they spin in opposite directions, grinding against each other to make them rounded.  The jeweler then cuts the facets — 58 to be exact — and, finally, gives the diamond a bath in acid to remove any residue that might dull its appearance.  The result? A beautiful, sparkling, precious jewel!  And who doesn’t want one of those?

 

The kneading and the hot oven, the tilling and the fertilizer, the pressure, cleaving, grinding, faceting, and acid — they’re all trials and hardships the dough, dirt, and coal must endure in order to become delicious bread, fertile soil, and valuable diamonds. 

Which picture above illustrates your spiritual condition?  Are you a lumpy, sticky mess of dough?  Then yield yourself to the Baker and let Him knead you until all your impurities are released. Let Him “bake” you until you are like the Bread of Life, nourishing others and leaving everywhere the aroma of Christ.  Are you spiritually dry, barren, and hard? Let the Gardener apply the water of His Word to soften you, the tiller of His will to break you, and the fertilizer — yes, even the stinky stuff — of life to enrich you so that you can bear much fruit.  Or, are you a lump of smutty coal?  Don’t let the pressures of life or the grinding from other “rough diamonds” break you; rather let them turn you into a well-rounded gem.  Then let the Jeweler cleave, facet, and polish you until He can shine through you and cast His Light upon the paths of others. 

Why does God allow junk into your life?  Maybe, just maybe, He desires to turn you into…

… a loaf of bread that nourishes others with hope and perseverance, or

… a field of fertile soil that grows abundant, fruit-bearing crops, or

… a precious diamond that sparkles with the glory of God!

He has a purpose and it’s for your good.  So TRUST HIM!

Crashed — But Back!

I’m back up and running!  My computer crashed with a virus over a week ago and I had to send it off to a computer hospital.  It’s all better now.  However, they failed to return my power cord and the battery is almost dead.  I should have it tomorrow and can once again be a B-L-O-G — that is, a…

Believer Lovin’ On God!

The Eclipse God*

partial eclipse - small

Solar eclipse: A phenomenon that occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, blocking out the sun’s light and casting a dark shadow on the earth. 

A solar eclipse is a bizarre sight to behold,  appearing like the moon has locked up the sun and the sun’s rays are fighting to free it from captivity.  Yet, the moon has not obliterated the sun nor harmed it in anyway. The sun is right where it’s always been, doing what it’s always done: shining brilliantly. The moon has simply gotten in the way, blocking the earth’s view of its precious, life-giving star.

 

How like the eclipsing moon is man with all his “ignorant intelligence” — and by “man” I mean all humans.  Men and women alike have concocted shadowy theories and dark philosophies about God that have clouded (not changed) the truth:

“God is not the Creator of the universe; rather, it has evolved to its present state.”

“God is Love; therefore, He (or She) would never deny someone like Gandhi access into heaven.”

“God is in every created thing; therefore, every created thing is God.”

“God is a creative-energy-essence all around us; we call it the spiritual realm or our God-selves.”

“God is the ‘man upstairs’ who is either happy with you or mad at you.”

“God is just the beginning word in an expletive phrase; you know, ‘God *@&#^%!!'”

“God? There is no such being.”

Oh, the pitiful little “moons” who attempt to obliterate God, who try so desperately to block out the light of His Truth, who spend their lives casting shadows on the earth with their cold, dark theories. But God is right where He’s always been, shining brilliantly as He always has. His warm, life-giving rays are available to anyone who will push the little moons aside and step out of their shadows and into His light.

Dr. R. C. Sproul once said that his heart’s desire is to remove the shadows, to pull back those obstinate little moons, and “to reveal the resplendent glory of the truth of God’s majesty.”  You can tell by his choice of words that Dr. Sproul certainly doesn’t think of God as just “the man upstairs”! No, he clings tightly, lovingly, and worshipfully to the truth of God. 

Have you clung to the truth?  Are you standing in the shadows or in the light? Are you a protector of truth?  

Oh, Father, may it be the passion of all your children to live in the light of your Truth, to stand strong against any “little moon” that attempts to rise between Your Truth and our hearts. May we not allow the theories of man to darken our understanding of You or reduce our awe of You. May we testify to the truth of who You are: YHWH, Creator, El Shaddai, Most High God, Savior, Redeemer, Lifter of My Head…  May we be protectors of Your reputation: loving yet just, gracious yet holy, perfect yet forgiving, far above yet deep within Your children…  May we be valiant warriors in the fight against any who attempt to eclipse the majesty and the glory of the one, true God!

 
*The provacative title The Eclipse of God is original to the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, who published a book by the same name in 1952.

Saints Win! Saints Win!

Saints logo-tinyPeople were screaming, car horns were honking, fireworks were popping as the Cinderella Saints won Super Bowl XLIV last night. Even yours truly, a diehard Peyton Manning fan, was acting quite the fool, jumping up-and-down and screaming. From the heart of New Orleans, throughout Louisiana, and across the nation, people were tuned in and turned on to Saints mania — 106.5 million to be exact, the largest television viewing audience ever!  Wow!

Now, if only we could get that lathered up over being a saint — a real saint, that is, not a football player or a team fan. 

Saint = chesidh (Hebrew) 

“…kind, benevolent, gracious…holy one”*

“Saint” is rooted in the Hebrew word chesed (often translated as lovingkindness).  One of the most important words in the Old Testament, chesed carries the idea of a superior bending down to perform an act of kindness for an inferior.  So when Christians are called “saints,” it has nothing to do with what they’ve done or how they live; it has everything to do with what God has done for them.   

Think about it: The God of the universe didn’t just bend down to perform some kind act; He came down to earth to perform the greatest act of kindness the world has ever known. He took our place on the cross, cancelled our sin debt, and paid the price for eternal life!  And to those who have accepted His gift, to those who believe in Him, God gave them the right to be called “saints.” 

Wow!  Shouldn’t we be doing a lot of screaming?  Shouldn’t car horns be honking? Shouldn’t fireworks be popping?  Shouldn’t the saints of God be more excited over this victory than over a ballgame win? 

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). 

Let me put that in today’s vernacular. Only one team can win a ballgame.  So all the competing athletes get into a training program, learn to work together, and strive to be the best team possible.  All the winner gets, however, is a trophy and a title; a trophy that gets dusty, rusty, and forgotten, and a title that lasts only a year.

But saints?  Our victory has already been won through the cross of Christ!  It’s really, really true:

Saints win!  Saints win!

 Wooden cross - small

*From the Lexical Aids to the Old Testament included in The Complete Word Study Old Testament by Spiros Zodhiates (AMG Publishers 1994).

“I don’t think I can do this!”

Today as I boarded a plane to Charlotte, NC, a 40-something-year-old woman sat down across the aisle from me.  She was obviously a little nervous, moving her lips silently and making the sign of the cross several times (touching finger from forehead to breastbone, from right shoulder to left). 

I turned to speak to her but before I could open my mouth, she said, “I’m not crazy! I’ve just never flown before in my whole life and I’m a bit scared.” While I was reassuring her that all would be well, I was thinking, “Well, so much for that work I was going to do in-flight.”

“Do you fly a lot?” she asked. 

“Quite often,” I replied.  “There’s nothing to it.  No, no, hon. Turn the buckle around the other way like this.  See?  It snaps right in.  There you go.”

“How tight do I tighten it? It’s got to be really, really tight, doesn’t it?” she asked, pulling the belt with all her might.

“Oh, no! That’s too tight!  You need to be able to breath easily.  There, that’s good.  Now just sit back and…

Frightened woman-small“Why are you sitting on the aisle side?  Don’t you like looking out the window? You get scared, don’t you? It’s scary, isn’t it? I don’t know if I can do this!” Her voice pitched higher and higher with each question. Then she abruptly turned and slammed down the window shade.

“No, no! I like the aisle because you have more arm room and you can get up easier if you need to get something or to go to the bathroom.  Actually, I like looking out the window, too.  It’s very beautiful.  Now just relax and…

“What’s that? What was that noise?” she asked, jerking herself upright, her eyes as big as saucers.

“It’s okay. It’s okay. The flight attendant just closed the door.  That’s a good noise; you want to hear that noise!” I joked, trying to ease her tensions.

“I’m sorry!  I’m just so nervous. I’ve never done this before. I’ve heard stories. I just don’t know if I can do this!”

I was trying to calm her down with another witty comment when the flight attendant, who heard what was going on, offered to let the woman sit on the front row close to her.  “That way, at each step of the way, I can prepare you for what’s going to happen next and hopefully make your first flight a great experience for you.”

The woman gave a frightful look my way. And I, being the compassionate, patient, kind and loving person that I am, said, “Go!”  Of course, I meant it for her own good, don’t you know. 

“And we urge you…encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”*

(Oops!)

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”**

(Ouch!)

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing…Love is patient, love is kind…”***

(Uh oh!)

“Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”****

(Excuse me — I’ll be right back after this short prayer break!)

As the plane streaked down the runway and lifted into the air, the woman said, “Is that it? Wow!  That wasn’t so bad!”  Throughout the entire flight, the attendant spoke softly to the woman, letting her know what to expect and gently answering her myriad of questions. By the time we reached our destination, the woman was sitting in the windowseat, shade up, marveling at how the earth looks from 30,000 feet. What a transformation!

You know, I failed to show this woman the love of God, but she and the flight attendant surely showed it to me!  How  much like the woman I am — frightened little child at times, seeing and hearing danger all around me, anxious about every little thing, asking question after question.

And God? He’s like the flight attendant: He comes to me in my time of need. He’s patient and compassionate. He answers each question with tenderness, never calling them “dumb” questions. He calms my fears, bidding me to be anxious for nothing but to trust Him.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him…”

(Psalm 103:8 & 13)

Thank you, Lord, for being my “flight attendant”; for being patient with me as I travel on this journey called life; for gently talking to me the entire way and answering all my questions; for being compassionate and kind to me when I’m like a frightened little child; and for loving me with Your abounding love!

 

*1 Thessalonians 5:14     **Colossians 3:12     ***1 Corinthians 13:1-4     ****James 4:17