Refining Fires That Fail Not

by Eric Holter on December 11, 2011

“I have made you a tester of metals among my people,
that you may know and test their ways.
They are all stubbornly rebellious,
going about with slanders;
they are bronze and iron;
all of them act corruptly.
The bellows blow fiercely;
the lead is consumed by the fire;
in vain the refining goes on,
for the wicked are not removed.
Rejected silver they are called,
for the Lord has rejected them.”
Jeremiah 6:27-30

Refining is a firery process–the bellows must blow fiercely. The Apostle Peter assures us that while the trying of our faith may feel grievous (1 Peter 1:6-7) it is necessary and well worth it –if the result is purer faith. Faith, he reminds us, is more precious than gold–the purer the better. If we know and agree that faith is our most precious possession we will be able to endure suffering–even rejoice in it knowing the fires are accomplishing something very good.

How terrible though to go through refining fires to no effect. Israel, in the days of Jeremiah was called “rejected silver.” For after all the heat they were still full of dross. Even though the fires were stoked–still they could were not purified of their corruptions. They’re stubbornness and rebellion were not cured.

The fires of purification are meant to melt and soften our hearts so that the evil in our hearts can be separated and burned off. But stubbornness and rebellion resist this softening process–and if not overcome they will keep us hardened to the purifying works of God.

But we have complete confidence in Christ that the refining fires of God will not be in vain in our lives. The hope that sustains us in the midst of purifying fire is the reality that God has already “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). Because we have been born again to an imperishable inheritance, and since we are “by God’s power…being guarded through faith” we have complete confidence and hope that His refining fires will increase our joy, and not cause us to become rejected silver.

Lord thank you for making my heart soft so that your refining fire’s work will accomplish its intended effects in my life. Do not let the fires burn in vain. Make my faith purer, make it more precious to me than gold. Amen.

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Startled Until We Understand the Scriptures

by Eric Holter on November 18, 2011

“As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?’” Luke 24:36-38

When the disciples first encountered Jesus after His resurrection, they were startled, frighted, even disbelieving out of joy. They simply did not know what to make of this incredible sight. Jesus assured them that it was indeed Him, that He was real–that He was raised, flesh and bone. He showed them His hands and feet. He ate fish in front of them. They began to believe but were still greatly perplexed.

What changed their demeanor from fear to faith?

It was when Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. It was when He demonstrated to them that His resurrection was no novel occurrence but rather all the Scriptures, the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, all pointed to this event. Only when they understood the Scripture were they were settled. The disciples may have been startled by the resurrection, but the Scriptures weren’t. The resurrection was according to plan.

The Word of God should ground all our hopes and expectations. The events of our lives often surprise and startle us. But if we remember what the Word of God says we need not be so disturbed. When the Word informs our view of reality, when we understand its explanation for our lives, its statement of our purpose–it puts us on solid ground. When the Scripture is our foundation the twists and turns of life are not so disturbing. We know that all our days are in His hands and that He works all things according to the purpose of His will.

The death and resurrection of Christ–while perplexing to the disciples, was right in line with all that God had planned. The Scriptures anticipated it and they explain it. If we understand the Scriptures we will be settled in life. If we don’t we will frequently be startled and perplexed.

Lord help me to know your Word, to be informed by your Word, to understand everything that happens in my life through the filter of your Word. May Your Word be the bedrock under my feet, and the foundation that under-girds my life. Thank you for making your Word known to me through Christ. Amen.

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Eternal Lessons from Temporal Tragedies

by Eric Holter on November 16, 2011

“He who digs a pit will fall into it,
and a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall.
He who quarries stones is hurt by them,
and he who splits logs is endangered by them.
If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge,
he must use more strength,
but wisdom helps one to succeed.
If the serpent bites before it is charmed,
there is no advantage to the charmer.”

Ecclesiastes 10:8-10

In a manufacturing plant, where heavy equipment and powerful machines are in use, you often find a prominent sign on the shop floor tallying the days without injury or accident. I don’t have one of these signs in my home. Accidents do happen there: kids bonk heads, people trip over toys, occasionally there are burns from preparing food. But accidents in the home are typically incidental, and usually not life threatening. But in a machine shop one wrong move, one distraction, or even simply wearing the wrong kinds of clothing can lead to loss of life or limb.

In Ecclesiastes the Preacher sees the inevitability of accidents for workers. Among men who dig pits some will fall in. Those who swing axes will sometimes get hurt. Whenever someone is injured on the job, we should always take heed. After soberly erasing the “days without incident” resetting it to zero, we need to examine the causes and learn from them. We may need to establish new procedures or safety measures to prevent such accidents from happening in the future. Injuries that occur in dangerous environments becomes signs, warnings, wake up calls to the rest.

We live in a dangerous world. We need warnings and signs to keep us safe here. Such are the words of scripture. We can either learn from scripture that dull axes don’t work well and lead to injuries, or we can learn the same thing by taking a dull axe blow to the shin. We can learn to resist temptation and to make no provision for the flesh by reading Romans 13:14, or we can suffer the pain of destruction that comes from sowing to the flesh. We can learn that we need a Savior to purify us from our sins by reading Hebrews (or most anywhere else in the Bible for that matter) or we will find it out on judgment day–albeit on that day it will be too late. The serpent will already have bitten.

Lord, let your Word be the stone that sharpens my dull mind, that instructs my soul with wisdom. Save me from danger. Make me sober to see how easy it can be to slip and fall. Make me alert to the serpents, the temptations, the dangers of sin. Let me learn from your Word and not from my own foolishness. Amen.

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As if He Were Going Farther

by Eric Holter on November 15, 2011

“So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them.” Luke 24:28-29

Jesus was willing to let the two disciples think that He had other business to attend to, some place down the road, when He acted as if He were going farther. But they pleaded with Him to stay with them. They wanted more of His words. But, in fact, Jesus was eager not only to continue to speak God’s Word to them, but He was eager to be with them, to sit at table with them, and to fellowship with them–to break bread with them.

Jesus is never too busy to meet with us–he doesn’t have more pressing work farther down the road. He always wants to sit with us–to fellowship with us. If it sometimes feels like God is distant, that He has greater things to attend to than to hear our prayers and to meet with us, it’s not so. Jesus is eager to sit and commune with us. And because He has risen and because He has ascended to the right hand of the Father His Spirit is able to meet with us anywhere and all at all times. But sometimes He does stand off–waiting for us to plead with him and urge Him strongly. He wants us to ask Him saying “stay with us.” He wants us to be eager for His word and His fellowship. Sometimes we fail to feel His closeness–we feel like God is far off busy with other matters–not because He has no time for us, but precisely because He wants our devotion. He wants us to hunger after Him.

Lord make me hungry for Your Word, for Your presence, and for Your fellowship. Stay with me! Let my heart burn within for You through Your word. Amen.

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Take a Cake of Figs

by Eric Holter on April 23, 2011

“Take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil.” Isaiah 38:21

Chapter 38 of Isaiah recounts Isaiah’s delivering the Word of the Lord to Hezekiah, telling him that his sickness was going to lead to death. In response Hezekiah prays, weeps and asks the Lord to heal him. In response to his prayer, God does it, and adds fifteen years to his life.

What are we to make of this? Does God change His mind? Did He not consider the possibility that Hezekiah would pray?

Of course not. The Bible is absolutely clear that God knows all things including the thoughts and intension of the heart (Heb. 4:12), the actions of man (Acts 2:23), and even “random” events like the results of a cast lot (Prov. 16:33).

So why did God say that Hezekiah would die? God sent Isaiah for the express purpose that Hezekiah would know that he was going to die. Hezekiah needed to know this so that he wouldn’t die. It was God’s will to heal Hezekiah from the get go–so He sent Isaiah with some bad news. God knew what Hezekiah would do in response–that he pray! And by the means of that prayer God extended his life for another fifteen years. God brought it about by causing Hezekiah’s prayer through the means of the bad news.

It’s important when reading this story to remember the overall plot at this point in the book of Isaiah. The king of Assyria was threating Judah and would eventually take Judah into captivity, but not while Hezekiah lived (Isa. 39:7-8). The life of Hezekiah was tied to the security of Judah. We see this clearly when God says in response to healing Hezekiah “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.” (Isa. 38:5-6).

God was doing much more than giving Hezekiah an extra decade and a half to live. He was granting a reprieve to Judah, and He was doing this through the means of Hezekiah’s prayer.

I think there are two major things we can learn from this. First, God’s mercy and patience toward His people is amazing. He suffers long with our sins, and constantly is working to bring about our repentance and turn our hearts toward Him. But we also learn that we should always pray. When God informs us about things that will happen–like his impending judgment on the wicked–it is designed to cause us to pray for deliverance. We should never have the attitude, in response to God’s sovereign work, that our prayers are irrelevant. We must pray.

God intended from the start to grant Judah a reprieve. But He did it through Hezekiah’s prayer. Hezekiah had to pray, God granted His mercy in response to his prayer. And He knew that Hezekiah would pray as he did.

God’s sovereignty is greater than we can imagine. He is astoundingly complex in the He weaves His sovereign will in and through our actions our thoughts and our intentions. God didn’t change His mind when Hezekiah prayed. He made Hezekiah the kind of kind that would pray when this news was delivered. God accomplished what He desired through Hezekiah’s prayer.

And then we read this, “Now Isaiah had said, ‘Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil, that he may recover’” (Isa. 38:21). Isn’t that surprising! God was doing big things with nations, He used a prophet to set in motion important events like Hezekiah’s prayer. The effects were huge for Judah in that day. And this story is now a part of Holy Scripture for us to learn from to this day. And after all this weaving of God’s purposes through Isaiah and Hezekiah, they still had to apply some fruit to his flesh so that he would recover.

Doesn’t that seem a bit anti-climactic? God sent Isaiah, God responded to Hezekiah’s prayer, Judah was saved–but don’t forget the figs!

How do you respond to God’s sovereignty in your life? Are you ever tempted not to pray for your neighbor because their salvation is “in God’s hands?” Do we assume God will provide because he says he will, and forget to pray for our daily bread?

And if we pray, do we forget to apply the figs? There are often very simple, basic, and necessary things that we must do, which are part of the means that God has designed to accomplish His purposes. Do we pray for opportunities to share the gospel, and not look for them? (Guilty!) Do we ask for provision but fail to walk diligently? Do we ask for restored health but fail to take our rest? Do we ask for joy and fail to recount the multitude of blessings we live in?

God will do what he says, and he will do it through our prayers–and through the means he appoints. Pray and apply the figs.

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Sobering Psalm 50

by Eric Holter on September 1, 2009

Psalm 50 is a sobering Psalm. Right off the bat it positions the Lord as judge over all the earth. In the first 15 verses God summons his people and delivers a surprising rebuke. They had been offering sacrifices rightly enough, according to God’s own statues. So his rebuke is not so much for that. Yet in another sense it was–for even when sacrificing properly, they were not honoring God. He reminded them that he owns all the cattle on a thousand hills. Therefore, they couldn’t give to God anything that He did not already own. And in receiving these sacrifices, which were already his, he does not receive them as though he needed them–he wasn’t hungry for meat and blood.
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The Subsequent Glories of the Cross

by Eric Holter on August 10, 2009

The gospel message about what Christ has done for us on the cross is great not only because of what it tells us about what God did for us in the past. It’s increasingly glorious in what it produces in us now and in its promises for our future. [click to continue…]

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If the Lord Wills

by Eric Holter on July 22, 2009

Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:15

I am often guilty of the evil boasting of arrogance that presumptuously declares where I will go and what I will do as though such things were in my control. I’ve been trying to obey the instruction that James gives about not boasting, but instead saying “if the Lord wills” I will do such and such. But I noticed something in my most recent reading of this passage. James doesn’t just tell us to say “if the Lord wills we will do this or that,” he says “if the Lord wills we will live and do this or that.” [click to continue…]

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Painting Glory in Muted Tones

by Eric Holter on May 30, 2007

“Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead’ and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.’” John 11:4

There are, on God’s palette, many colors and shades from which He chooses when painting the canvas upon which His glory is revealed. They are not all bright rainbow colors. Among His supplies are earthy browns, dark umber hues, grays, and blacks that, when painted by the master, fall perfectly into His bright design.

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Pursuit of Progress

by Eric Holter on April 5, 2007

“Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith…” Philippians 1:25

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon bemoans the futility of man’s attempts to “make progress”” during his days under the sun. Whatever “progress” I may attain in my life, for my generation, will eventually be undone. A new discovery or significant contribution will be forgotten over time or replaced by a newer one. That’s not to say that God does not intend for mankind to make progress. Quite the opposite, He has commanded us to progress–to subdue the earth and multiply in it.

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