Refine Us God

“In the same way that gold and silver are refined by fire, the Lord purifies your heart by the tests and trials of life.” – Proverbs 17:3

Different metals purify at different temperatures. As a result, artisans working with gold or silver need to be careful to get the temperature just right, so that they eliminate the dross and don’t lose any of the precious metal they are refining. Otherwise, they will burn it too much and it all turns to dust. Watching a skilled refiner dance with molten metal and flame is amazing. Eventually, he eliminates all the foreign substances and impurities and gets to the pure metal which is what holds the real value.

The Bible often uses the imagery of gold being refined as a picture of what God does in our lives. Gold, when extracted from the earth, does not look like gold we find in a jewelry store. In fact, it is not always recognizable due to the impurities that mar its appearance. Yet, for the person searching for it, the ugliest lump of gold is of great value, and the potential for beauty is evident.  

This is the same refinement process that we, as God’s children, go through. The gold (God’s children) are not destroyed in this process, they simply become pliable and can be molded into the image of God. With just the right amount of heat and trial, God burns away the dross that is not just buried within us but has been a part of us for as long as we can remember. He applies the fire, then pulls it away. 

The sacrifice of God’s son to reconcile us back to a relationship with God shows just how much He values us — even while we are lost and separated from Him. God sees us not full of impurity, but full of potential. Sometimes we expect God to simply zap the junk out of our lives when we enter into a relationship with Him.

If heat is being applied to your life today, it has a purpose behind it. Illness may be designed to bring fear to the surface so God can build trust. Financial difficulty may raise materialism to the surface. Relational struggles may raise bitterness or unforgiveness to the surface. Disappointment at work may raise pride to the surface. The heat and trials of our lives are evidence of how much God values you and His desire for you to be all He designed you to be. He loves us too much to leave us as He finds us.

God’s purpose behind every difficult circumstance in our day is to develop our character. The Lord could have kept difficulties away from so many men and women of God in the Scripture, but then they would not have been refined. He could have kept the three young Hebrew men from being thrown into the fiery furnace or Daniel from being thrown into a lion’s den or Jeremiah into the slimy pit or Joseph into prison. But He didn’t. And each of them, because of the refining fire they experienced, were pulled closer to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does God refine us on a daily basis?   
  2. What can we do this week to do the little things that make us more Christlike?  

Living Stones

“So keep coming to him who is the Living Stone—though he was rejected and discarded by men but chosen by God and is priceless in God’s sight. Come and be his “living stones”who are continually being assembled into a sanctuary for God. For now you serve as holy priests, offering up spiritual sacrifices that he readily accepts through Jesus Christ. –  1 Peter 2:4-5. 

In our culture today, when we build our homes, we often build them out of wood. For larger buildings, we use steel. But, in Peter’s day, the material that they used in building homes and buildings were stones. This passage uses this fact and describes the community of believers as a building that Christ is building. But, the passage isn’t so much about the church which God is building. It’s more about our relationship to Christ, the living stone. We are living stones because He is the chief stone. We each are stones built on Christ to take part in God’s ongoing work of redemption and healing. 

Have you ever watched as workers covered a house or chimney with stone. They truck in a few thousand pounds of rocks and the labor intensive work begins. Stones of all shapes and sizes are placed carefully in the structure to form its shape. As the mason begins the wall, he places a few large stones at the base of the wall. Once the stones are placed, he walks over to the pile to see what sort of stones would fit nicely on these stones. At various times, he shapes them up and sizes them to see if they will work for him. When he has found his stone, he puts some mortar down, and places the stone where it goes. It is like a rock jigsaw puzzle. 

God’s kingdom is made up of people who don’t all look the same, talk the same, even believe exactly the same in terms of scripture, methodology, and doctrine. Some black, some white, some red, yellow, some old, some young, some men, some women. But it’s not in those things that we find common ground with one another. Jesus is where we find common ground. Jesus is the cornerstone. The cornerstone is the one that literally sets all the other stones in place.

Jesus is building His church, but rather than a pile of stones, He has a pile of believers. He takes each of us and considers how best to place us into His church, which He has promised to build (Matt. 16:18). And Jesus places us into the wall and ceiling and floor as He pleases. God is not calling any of us to give up how He made us. He does not want us to use how He made us to relate inappropriately to people He has made different than us. God is not asking you to be anything other than what He’s made you, as long as you submit to how He has made you, and to relate to other people who He has made different than you. 

When our master craftsmen, the Creator of the Universe, draws us to Himself, something wonderful happens. We begin the journey of becoming more and more like His Son, Jesus, and this is very precious to Him regardless of age, color, or ethnicity, gender or nationality.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you to be a living stone? 
  2. What can we do this week to better relate to people who are different than we are?    

God Has No Favorites

“Peter said, “Now I know for certain that God doesn’t show favoritism with people but treats everyone on the same basis. It makes no difference what race of people one belongs to. If they show deep reverence for God, and are committed to doing what’s right, they are acceptable before him.” — Acts 10:34-35 (TPT).  

Mary McLeod Bethune was the 15th of 17 children, the first of her parent’s children born out of slavery. Mary attended Moody Bible Institute in 1895, where she prepared for missionary service to Africa. Unfortunately, her application was denied by a mission board because of her race. In the face of this devastating news, the young woman graciously replied, “I am so glad He has counted me worthy to lay this Great Command upon my heart. I am so glad He did not designate any particular color to go.” Refusing to be discouraged, she overcame all the prejudices of the day and lived a life devoted to God’s service. 

The Acts 10 passage speaks to an encounter dealing with race and diversity. It centered around an encounter between Peter and a  Roman Centurion named Cornelius ( Acts 10: 1-33) Peter and Cornelius were two completely different people. One was Jewish, the other Gentile. Peter most likely grew up lower to middle class, experiencing Jewish foods and customs.

Cornelius most likely grew up wealthy (Acts 10:1–2). However, God purposely brought the unlikely pair together (vv. 30–33), teaching them that God shows no partiality. (v. 34) There are many verses that talk about God being impartial and not playing favorites. Some of them include: Mark 12:14, “…we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites…” Romans 2:11 says, “For God does not show favoritism.” Ephesians 6:9, “…you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites.” And Galatians 2:6 says, “…for God has no favorites.”  

There was a time when Peter would have wanted nothing to do with Cornelius or his family and friends (vv. 27–29). Associating with a Gentile was against Jewish law (v. 28). He saw the differences, God did not. God was the reason the two met. Peter realized that if God accepts anyone without exception, he too should accept and love them as well (vv. 34–35). God accepts people from “every nation” (v. 35). He wanted Peter and each of us to stop looking at people through human eyes and see them as He does.

God wants us to get out of our comfort zone and love those with whom we normally wouldn’t connect. No matter what your position in life, no matter what your race or the amount of your possessions, God opens His kingdom to everyone. God does not show favoritism. And neither should we.

Discussion Questions:

  1. It is relatively easy to say that we believe in racial reconciliation. If you had to prove it with more than words, what would you claim as evidence in your life that goes beyond intellectual belief?
  2. What can you do this week to be impartial?    

The Theology Of Race

“And they sang a new song with these words: “You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:9.  

In America, the topic of race is a hot topic. There are bold and courageous conversations going on all over the country on this important topic. As Christians, we believe this is a gospel issue.  It is not just a social issue. Or a political or economic issue. This is an important issue for the church and for all of us who are followers of Jesus.  Even when people take the time to study and learn the theology of race, the work of reconciliation can seem overwhelming. Where do we start? 

The gospel is a way forward. One of the first steps should be getting back to God’s Word. How do we see God’s word address race?  What does it say, what does it not say and what do we do about it.  The Bible has plenty to say about the subject starting at Genesis and ending in Revelation.

It starts at the beginning: God made from one man every nation of mankind and He even appointed the specific boundaries of where they would live. Genesis 1:28 says, “Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”People got arrogant and decided they didn’t want to fill the earth: “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”(Genesis 11:4) The fall and the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) led to confusing and scattering people all over.

In his book Bloodlines, John Piper reveals the definitive source of hope: teaching how the good news about Jesus Christ actively undermines the sins that feed racial strife and leads to a many-colored and many-cultured kingdom of God; the bloodline of Jesus that is comprised of “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Revelation 7:9-10 adds, ” “I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a mighty shout, ‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10)

If God created every ethnicity, died for every ethnicity, and brings every ethnicity into His everlasting kingdom, then we need to get in line with God’s view of every ethnicity. We share the same beginning, the same problem of sin, the same solution at the cross of Christ, the same destiny of heaven if we are children of God. We have a whole lot more in common than sets us apart. The things that unite us are bigger and better than the things that make us different.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think God made each person unique? 
  2. Many people think of change that the gospel brings as primarily personal change. How does the gospel effect social change?

In A Cave With God Most High

“I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me”  – Psalm 57:2.  

Hurricane Michael. The Coronavirus. Unemployment. Racial divides. You would have to live in a cave to be insulated from all the trying and difficult challenges we face in the world today. That is exactly what David did. 

The title of Psalm 57 gives us the circumstances under which the psalm was written. Things are so desperate for David that he flees and hides in the cave of Adullam. So David is in a dark cave. He’s hungry and thirsty. He hasn’t slept for days. Perhaps from the opening of the cave, he can look out and see dust coming up over the horizon from Saul’s army. You would think that David’s focus would be on what he is going to do when Saul’s army arrives. But instead, David is focused on God. 

The last part of Psalm 57:1 is very comforting: “I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by.” David has confidence that this “storm” he finds himself in will eventually blow over. He has to wait out the storm, and he can do so because he has sought refuge under the wings of God. During the troubling times, we too need to run to God and take cover under His wings. Trust in God and have faith that the troubles will pass. David said a similar thing in Psalm 27:13: “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.”

The reason why David was able to keep his focus on God rather than on his danger may be found in v. 2: “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” Why does David address God as “the God Most High?” Because David wants to impress upon us just how much authority God had over his life. The God David worshiped wasn’t a God who had authority over his life only when everything was going well. His God wasn’t a god that was somehow limited in authority, a god who had dominion over some aspects of David’s life, but when it came to a pursuing army, not so much.

By addressing God as “the God Most High”, David recognized that the God he worshiped is a God who has ultimate authority over heaven and earth. David knew that he could trust his life to the God Most High because God had ultimate authority over David’s life. David recognized God’s ability to protect him from a pursuing enemy.

How could David have had an attitude of unreserved praise toward God? Don’t forget, Saul’s army was in hot pursuit. David had experienced God’s faithfulness in the past, in both the good and the bad times, and David knew that the God Most High would be just as faithful to him there in the cave as He had been to David in the past.

How could I possibly focus on God when my mind is consumed by everything going on around me? When you recognize that the God you worship is the God Most High you recognize that God is just as faithful today as he had been to David, and he’s just as faithful today as he has been in your past as well.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where do you go when you need a safe place? What does it mean to dwell in the shelter of the most high? 
  1. What can we do this week to trust God more and worry less? 

The Importance Of Character

“Then the other administrators and high officers began searching for some fault in the way Daniel was handling government affairs, but they couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn. He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy. 5 So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.” – Daniel 6:4-5

“He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy.” High praise from an enemy. Could this be said of you? Of me? Navonne Johns once said, “A persons character is shown through their actions in life not where they sit on Sunday.”

My character is who I really am because I can’t separate what I do from who I am. God cares about each of us and He cares about our character. The Bible could easily be classified as a character manual on how to live your life in a Christlike manner. As Christians, we have a code of conduct that we are called to – not because of what we can get out of it – but because of who God is, and who we are as His people.

As Christians, we are constantly striving to be more like Christ every day because that is what the Bible instructs us to do. When you hear the word Christ-like character, what do you think of? Someone that loves Jesus with all their heart, someone that reads their Bible all the time, someone that prays all the time, someone that goes to church all the time, etc. Well, all those things are great examples of Christ-like character. But the little daily things that we do contribute just as significantly to having a Christlike character. 

God knows we are not perfect. He is the one who made every single person, and He did not make anyone perfect. We are not all geniuses, or world-class athletes, or successful business people. But as followers of Jesus, we should always try and have a more Christ-like character. Like I said they do not all have to be very obvious, some small simple everyday things are all great examples of Christ-like character. For example, just smiling at someone, or telling someone hello, or asking someone how their day is going, giving someone a shoulder to cry on, giving a listening ear to someone who needs to just talk for a minute, buying someone some groceries, or just sending a very nice encouraging text.

These are all excellent ways to show Christ-like character, but these things can also just be normal everyday habits. But even the littlest bit of Christ-like character shown can make a huge difference in someone’s life. It is the little things that make a huge difference. Basketball coach John Wooden said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

As Christians and as the Church we are to conduct ourselves in a manner that shows our changed heart, our gratitude for our salvation, and our love for the One who died for us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How well do you understand God’s character? How well does your character reflect God’s character?  
  2. What can we do this week to do the little things that make us more Christlike?  

Never Stop Learning

“For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light.” – Mark 4:22.

When people discuss “learning” the conversation usually defaults to where and when they went to high school and college. And many people think that they were done with learning and moved into the application of what they learned in school. But education does not end in the classroom. Education is a continuous, life long process. There are countless opportunities for learning from friends, work, and circumstances. Peter Drucker, the management expert, said that “an educated person is someone who has learned how to learn and never stops learning.” 

The same is true of your walk with God. The Christian faith is not a short-term course of study. Our mindset shouldn’t be to take a few classes on Christianity and then spending the rest of our years drawing from that knowledge. The ongoing health in the Christian life is inextricably linked to ongoing learning. The loop of learning doesn’t close today or tomorrow, but a lifetime lies ahead or until Jesus returns. 

Mark 4:21 tells us, “Then Jesus asked them, “Would anyone light a lamp and then put it under a basket or under a bed? Of course not! A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light will shine.” It is hard to argue with that statement. The purpose of light is to be seen and to make sight possible. To hide a lamp would defeat its primary purpose. In the next verse, Jesus says, “For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light.” (Vs. 22) The hidden things will be revealed if we take the time and have the desire to learn.   

Mark 4:11 says, “…You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God.” Jesus was telling His disciples that there was still much more to be revealed. The disciples, and each of us today, must constantly be open to new discoveries of His plans and purposes. In other words, we must not stop learning.

Jesus said in Mark 4:25: ”To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.” As followers of Jesus, we must become someone who has learned how to learn and never stops learning. It is not a matter of learning facts or acquiring information and head knowledge. We’re not just learners of principles, but of a Person. We are lifelong learners in relationship with Jesus as we hear His voice in His word and have His ear in prayer, all through the power of His Spirit.

Lifelong learning is not merely digging deeper in the endless amount of information out there. Lifelong learning for the Christian is knowing God himself in Christ through the gospel word and the written word of the Scriptures — in the hearing and reading and study and meditation and memorization of the Bible and then applying what we learned. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does lifelong learning mean to you?  
  2. What can we do to ensure that we never stop learning?  

Success In Workplace Relationships

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love makes up for many of your faults.” — 1 Peter 4:8.  

Success is often measured by results. We look at the final score of the big game or the balance of our stock portfolio to measure how successful we have been. In our walks with Jesus, success is measured differently. Success isn’t measured on a monetary gain or the “score.” Spiritual success is measured in the relationships we build with others and how our relationships draw ourselves and others closer to God. Workplace relationships present a whole different challenge. It is easy to feel as though we are being scraped and buffed and ground up as we deal with abrasive coworkers and impossible managers and demanding customers.  

We are told in Romans 12:18 to “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” That’s our assignment for our work relationships and all others. It does make it a little more difficult when most of the others in the workplace are operating under a different set of relationship principles, such as: “look out for number one!” and “do what you have to do to get ahead.” There seems little benefit in living at peace with everyone. But as disciples of Jesus Christ, it is our guiding principle.

It is very difficult to change someone especially if they don’t see the need to change.  But we can change ourselves. That means that some relationships will never be what we want them to be because the other person is not willing to improve or change. That’s when we have to learn to let go and accept the relationship as it is. However, most relationships can be improved if we work on ourselves and do everything we can to make them better by having a servant’s attitude and a willing heart. Our focus should be on improving the relationship rather than proving that we are right, seeking payback, or putting our ambition ahead of doing what is right.   

This means that we can never ask God to change others or help us improve our relationships while we are refusing to take the first step, to do what Scripture clearly puts forth as our responsibility in all of our relationships. Philippians 2:3-4 instructs us to put others first: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” 

 “Thinking of others as better than yourself” will look different in different situations, but ask yourself if you’re willing to put others first–even your difficult coworkers or boss. This attitude change can only come through prayer and through the power of God’s Spirit within us. This has to be a God-thing or it will never be a reality. And it begins, as so much does, by prayer. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What should you do as a Christian if relationships at work are not where they should be? When do you believe you have done enough?  
  2. What can you do this week to improve your workplace relationships?   

How Do You Measure Success?

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” — Francis Chan

What does success mean to you? Is it important? If so, how important? Everybody is looking for success. If you googled “how to find success” right now, a billion of more results would pop up in a matter of seconds. Thousands of books have been written on the topic and even more YouTube videos have been created; all of them promise some level of success if you follow their advice. But, what is success? And, how can we truly measure it? And what is success spiritually? 

The Bible is the place we go to find the answers to those questions, but nowhere in scripture does God offer an exact picture of what “success” looks like. No particular level of achievement. No salary goal. No success checklist for us to complete. The scriptures simply say to roll every aspect of our lives upon Him, to trust wholly in Him, and then our lives will be full. That is all there is to it, yet when looked at in its entirety, it seems like a big undertaking. But is it?  Or is it in the unseen, behind the scenes, everyday small steps of consistent obedience to Him?  Small, everyday steps of allowing His Spirit to work in our lives and change our hearts. And small, everyday steps of loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Luke 9:25 (TPT) reminds us that “Even if you gained all the wealth and power of this world, everything it could offer you, yet lost your soul in the process, what good is that?”  

But don’t think that because you are taking small steps that you are limiting what God can do. You can’t limit God. Never give up on moving closer to God because it seems too large an undertaking and too difficult.  We serve a God who makes the impossible possible, who makes the improbable, probable. We know from scripture that nothing is impossible for Him. With God anything and everything is possible. But sometimes it all begins with the small things; like the small moments when I feel God’s presence. Or in the morning stillness and quiet of scripture reading and prayer or soaking in the beauty of a summer sky or choosing to extend forgiveness and grace in a raw moment when anger is threatening to boil to the surface.

And here’s the thing: all those transformative small steps of choosing to walk in tandem with the God of the universe next to me adds up to big success in my relationship with Jesus Christ.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define success in your life? 
  2. How do you need to re-prioritize your life so that getting to know God better is your number one priority?

Is It More Difficult To Trust God Or Obey Him?

“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” –  Luke 11:11-13. 

During a small group session, a question was asked that required some thought: “What have you learned about God that you wish the world could know?” The group thought about it for second and one person said, “I wish people knew God could be trusted. He has rules for a reason. They are there to protect us. He has our best interest at heart—always.” Then another person added, “trust is important, but it also takes obedience… obedience that flows from trust will last a lifetime.”

Obedience and trust do seem to go together although we often have trouble with one or the other. Trusting God is not the same as understanding Him. Trusting Him means transferring your confidence and hope from yourself to Him. It’s more about knowing who God is than what He will do and why. Only when we trust God will we desire and be able to obey Him. 

Obedience is the more difficult of the two. We tend to argue, push back, and fight a lot when God asks us to do something we don’t really want to do. We want our way. Yet the interesting thing is that in hindsight, we wonder why we fight so much because it always works out better than we imagined in the end. Do we thank God enough for doing His will in spite of us? 

How much do we trust God when we are skeptical, hesitant, or even defiant when God asks us to do something? How much do we trust God when we selectively ignore His prodding in our lives? The bottom line is that obedience to God proves that we love Him and demonstrates our trust.  

A lot of people think obedience is about fearing God, but God wants us to see obedience to Him as a relationship of love. And out of love comes trust. If you trust what God is saying to you, and you believe that He loves you, then that will lead to action.

You need to have all three because action without love is just rote religion. And love without action is just mere talk.

The Bible contains many passages that teach the “trust and obey for happiness” principle. Jacob is one such example. Jacob was a believer who had to learn over and over again throughout his life that “half-way” trust and obedience does not bring happiness and blessing.  Trusting and obeying involves both God’s sovereign work in us and our own responsibility and choice.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Trust or obedience: Which one is the hardest for you? 
  2. What can we do this week to get better in these areas?