Monday, January 25, 2016

From Flawed to Fair


[Photo of a scene from My Fair Lady]

“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”
—Malachi 3:3

Eliza Doolittle—the poor flower seller with a Cockney accent, a mere “guttersnipe”—wanted so much to belong to the respectable middle class. She had the good fortune to seeing her dream realized after learning the proper pronunciation of words from a slightly arrogant phonetics professor, Dr. Henry Higgins. His pains to teach her proper English climaxed in her learning to say, “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”

Most people recognize this brief synopsis of the story of the musical, My Fair Lady, and would say that Eliza Doolittle had indeed become “refined.” A dictionary would identify a refined person as “one free from imperfections and vulgarity; one improved by pruning or polishing; one reduced to a pure state.”

In several passages of Scripture, we read that God intends to purify and refine His people like silver. Silver only becomes precious after it has been refined in a fiery furnace. How does God intend to refine us? We read in Isaiah 48:10:

“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”

Refining takes time, and patience, and affliction. We do not become godly vessels, refined, pure and strong, until we allow God to put us through the “furnace of affliction.” Not only does the fire purify by burning away the impurities of sin, but it allows Him to bend us and fashion us into the objects of His love—objects that He wishes to use for His purposes.

If you are going through affliction, know that God will not waste these experiences. He intends you to become a “fair lady”: genteel, noble, strong, and shining for His glory. Yield yourself to your loving Silversmith. He will bring you forth from the fire transformed into a beautiful work of His design!



Monday, January 18, 2016

The Oak, the Olive, and the Palm


[Photo of a large tree]

“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a
planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
—Isaiah 61:3

I like trees. Even as a child, when my dad knew a tree was dying and needed cutting, I remember feeling sad about it. Old, large trees seemed to have so much character and shed so much shade. Their leaves played in the sunshine as I lay on the grass underneath, caught up in the views on summer days. They held my swings on which I spent countless hours singing and daydreaming.

The oak, known for its strength and endurance, has popularity around the world. As a symbol for American independence, the oak was selected as the “American National Tree.” People love to consider this great tree, as a symbol for power and maturity.

Oaks, unlike many other trees, take many years to mature. Even its seed, found within the acorn, takes six to eighteen months to mature. Each large, beautiful sturdy oak sees many harsh winters and many hot summers. It resists pests and disease in order to survive.

Among the earth’s longest living trees, we find the olive tree, with origins in the Middle East. Olive trees are known to live for several centuries and to remain productive for that long, if they receive proper pruning. Like the oak, they grow very slowly.

The olive branch has become a symbol of abundance, glory, and peace. Olive oil and the olive berry have nourished countless generations. Though never tall and towering, these sturdy trees spread their branches widely and tolerate drought well because of their sturdy, extensive roots.

King David refers to the olive tree in Psalm 52:8, as he contrasts his life with that of those who do not trust in God:

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God.

The word “flourishing” seems to indicate that David saw himself as one full of health and steeped in productivity for the sake of his God.

Another tree in scripture symbolizes strength and beauty within God’s household. In Psalm 92:12-13, we read:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

Palm trees, in a diversity of forms, can be known for their height. The date palm, typical in desert oases, has provided nourishment for weary travelers for centuries. Palms grow in the tropics, and generally thrive in most habitats where they are planted. Again, such a tree provides us with a beautiful picture of a mature and godly person, with a graceful erectness in the honored place of God’s courts.

These trees give us such an example of the kind of character God wants for his mature followers. Strength, endurance, beauty, productivity, health—all qualities possessed by God’s people as examples of the grace He wants to produce in all of us year after year.

These trees represent, not an easy life, but a life of sturdy character brought about by the winds and storms of adversity. And, for what purpose do such lives exist? They exist to flourish in God’s house.

Praise God for His ability to create, by His grace, a beautiful “planting” for His glory from our lives. Thank Him for those we see around us whom He has also blessed with fruitfulness for His glory!



Monday, January 11, 2016

Of Ill-Repute


[Photo of a sad girl]

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”
—John 1:46

Abused, treated harshly, neglected, given a bad reputation, emotionally tormented, rejected—each of these labels can far too often apply to someone for whom there seems all hope is lost. But with God, there is always room for redemption and restoration.

“Of the Sons of Korah.” Have you seen that inscription as you’ve read through the Psalms? In fact twelve of the psalms bear that heading. To see the point and the glory of those psalms, it helps to know the history of these men—the Sons of Korah.

In Numbers 16, we read the story of a rebellion by some Israelite men in the Jewish camp traveling to the Promised Land from Egypt. Verses 1-3 tell us that they:

…became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”

Moses tried to reason with the men, to give them pause because of all that the Lord had done for them, and to warn them. Then he called for them to meet with the Lord carrying their censers for incense. In verses 31-32, after Moses prayed and finished speaking:

“the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions.”

From that time on, no one forgot the judgment of the Lord on Korah and the other men. Yet, when we read in Psalms these creative songs of the Sons of Korah, we realize that God showed His grace to the family line. Even though they lived with the reputation of that incident so many generations before, God used them to glorify Himself and bless all those who subsequently have ever read their words.

I like what Dr. James Montgomery Boice says about this:

For some reason the Sons of Korah were spared, and it seems from their later employment that, in gratitude to God and his mercy, they must have dedicated themselves to producing and performing the music used to praise God at the wilderness tabernacle and later in the temple in Jerusalem. This interesting fact is a reminder that there can be devout children of reprobate fathers, as well as devout fathers with reprobate children, and that no child needs to be kept from serving God because of his or her parents’ sins. 1

This story must hearten those who have lived with a dark past with remembrances of abusive or ungodly parents and with remembrances from poverty and meaninglessness. God can take even the most damaged people and use them for His glory. Out of their brokenness He can place the wonderful light of His presence so that they gleam like shards of glass in the sunlight.

Even Jesus had to live down the reputation of his hometown. Nazareth:

…stood in disrepute, generally attributed to the people’s lack of culture and rude dialect...[The people] had a bad name among their neighbors for irreligion or some laxity of morals. 2

God calls us to “redeem” those things in our lives ruined by sin—to “salvage” them as He has us. We should rejoice in God’s ability to “make lemonade” out of all the lemons you have to give Him. He wants to show forth from your life His powerful ability to transform that which others would condemn. Praise be to God!


1 Boice, James Montgomery, Psalms: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996. Vol. 2, pp. 366-367.
2 Unger, Merrill F., Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago: Moody Press, 1961. p. 779.

—Posted: Monday, January 11, 2016



Monday, January 4, 2016



[Photo of collecting sap from tapped trees]

“Bring the best of the firstfruits of your
soil to the house of the Lord your God.”
—Exodus 23:19

More practical than connoisseur, my father balked at the idea that the first run from his farm’s sugarbush was the “best” maple syrup of the season. He reacted because all of the runs produced good syrup, relying on the same manner—hard physical labor. Yet that first run bears the name, “Fancy” because of its somewhat light quality.

The Bible has much to say about the “first” comparing it to the “best.” We read of the firstborn, the “first day of the week” (Resurrection Day), and of course, “firstfruits.” The prophet Malachi has much to say about the offerings God’s people were bringing to present to Him.

Listen to the warning of Malachi 1:12-13 that God gave His people, as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message.

Instead of honoring me, you profane me. You profane me when you say, ‘Worship is not important, and what we bring to worship is of no account,’ and when you say, ‘I’m bored—this doesn’t do anything for me.’ You act so superior, sticking your noses in the air—act superior to me, GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies! And when you do offer something to me, it’s a hand-me-down, or broken, or useless. Do you think I’m going to accept it? This is GOD speaking to you!” 1

This reminds me of what the mother of a children’s choir member I once taught said to me when I required better attendance at rehearsals than I received, “It’s only church, for heaven’s sake!” She really didn’t understand. Far too many of us need to pause and consider what we offer to God. “Good enough” isn’t acceptable to Him.

One of the first stories in the Bible reveals the offerings of Cain and Abel to God. According to Genesis 4:3-5:

In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

This failure to bring God the very best, the firstfuits, and to offer God precisely what He required resulted in jealousy instead of humility and repentance. And this jealousy led to the first murder in history!

Whether it is the first hour of our day, or the first day of our week, the first chunk of our paycheck, or the first consideration of our work, if we call ourselves Christians, all of those “firstfruits” belong to the Lord.

From beginning to end, the Scriptures repeat that admonition. In Revelation 2:4, God spoke to one of the earliest congregations:

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”

The beginning of another new year makes a great time to review our offerings, along with our attitudes toward all that we have and do. Do the best of those things belong to God? Can we say with the ancient hymn:

“Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.” 2


1 Peterson, Eugene. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, Carol Stream, IL: Nav Press, 2002.
2 Be Thou My Vision, ancient Irish hymn, translated by Mary E. Byrne. Text in the public domain.